Death Does Not Mean Parting From Government Payments

When the first line of the story reads: "The federal government pays out millions to dead people each year," you know you are on to something. In this case, something is continued annuity payments to federal workers who have moved on to the ultimate retirement in the sky.

And when the dollar amount is more than $600 million in five years, we’re talking about more than a few mistakes. The Washington Post has the story; here’s a recap.

Inspector General Patrick E. McFarland, who previously reported on the improper payments in 2005 and 2008, urged the Office of Personnel Management to more closely track such mistakes.

“It is time to stop, once and for all, this waste of taxpayer money,” he wrote in the report.

Improper payments to dead retirees increased 70 percent in the past five years, far higher than the 19 percent climb in overall annuity payments, the report said.

The payments are on the rise because OPM is doing a poor job of tracking potential cheats, McFarland said. In one case, a deceased annuitant’s son continued receiving federal benefits until 2008 — 37 years after his father’s death. OPM learned about the improper payments — which exceeded $515,000 — only after the son died. The agency never recovered the money.

Last October, an investigation by the office of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) concluded that the government had paid nearly $1 billion to at least 250,000 dead people since 2000. That same month, a watchdog group reported that the Obama administration’s economic stimulus program had made 89,000 payments of $250 each to dead or incarcerated people. 

Government Makes Money that Nobody Wants

Few days go by when one fails to hear something of significance when listening to NPR. But this story goes beyond the normal good work, highlighting the federal government’s wasteful production of $1 coins that primarily sit under heavy guard in Federal Reserve vaults.

Unused dollar coins have been quietly piling up in Federal Reserve vaults in breathtaking numbers, thanks to a government program that has required their production since 2007.

And even though the neglected mountain of money recently grew past the $1 billion mark, the U.S. Mint will keep making more and more of the coins under a congressional mandate.

The pile of idle coins, which so far cost $300 million to manufacture, could double by the time the program ends in 2016, the Federal Reserve told Congress last year.

A joint inquiry by NPR’s Planet Money and Investigations teams found that the coins are the wasteful byproducts of a third, failed congressional effort to get Americans to use one-dollar coins in everyday commerce.

In 2005, Congress decided that a new series of dollar coins should be minted to engage the public. These coins would bear the likeness of every former president, starting with George Washington. There would be a new one every quarter. So, far, the Mint has produced coins through the 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant.

Members of Congress reasoned that a coin series that changed frequently and had educational appeal would make dollar coins more popular. The idea came from the successful program that put each of the 50 states on the backs of quarters.

Stimulus Money Went Where? for What?

When federal government spending is involved, there is almost certain to be some questionable uses. According to a report from senators John McCain and Tom Coburn, there are more than a few such examples in the $862 billion stimulus plan.

The following and more are included in their report:

  • Nearly $2 million to photograph ants
  • More than $550,000 to replace windows in a closed visitors center
  • Replacing a 5-year-old sidewalk with a new sidewalk that leads to a ditch

You get the idea. Sure, there is some politics involved here. But the examples of misappropriated or mismanaged funds do speak loudly. Remember, it’s all about jobs — or at least it is supposed to be.

Here’s the report, Summertime Blues (for taxpayers).

Your Money Is Being Spent on What!

True or false: Washington will spend $2.6 million to train Chinese prostitutes to drink more responsibly on the job. Or how about a Congressional earmark of $200,000 for a tattoo removal program in Mission Hills, California. Add in $500,000 to Alaska Airlines to paint a Chinook salmon on a Boeing 737.

According to Brian Riedl, a respected veteran of the Heritage Foundation, all of the above are unbelievably true. In fact, his article titled "50 Examples of Government Waste" is an eye-opener. We’ve not hesitated to point out government inefficiency at various levels, but this documented lineup of wasteful and unnecessary spending is something to behold.

Riedl calls government waste the "low-hanging fruit that lawmakers must clean in order to build credibility with the public for larger reforms." He admits, however, that "identifying inefficencies and abuses is much easier than devising a system to fix them."

A few others from the hit list:

  • Washington spends $25 billion annually maintaining unused or vacant federal properties.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission spent $3.9 million rearranging desks and offices at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.
  • The Pentagon recently spent $998,798 shipping two 19-cent washers from South Carolina to Texas and $293,451 sending an 89-cent washer from South Carolina to Florida.
  • The federal government owns more than 50,000 vacant homes
  • Washington has spent $3 billion re-sanding beaches–even as this new sand washes back into the ocean.
  • The National Institutes of Health spends $1.3 million per month to rent a lab that it cannot use.
  • The Commerce Department has lost 1,137 computers since 2001, many containing Americans’ personal data.

Check out the entire list, but my guess is you will (and should) either be angry or at least frustrated beyond belief.