Federal wastebook targets year-end spending, $300K matchmaking study

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) continues where his predecessor former Sen. Tom Coburn left off. Lankford identified 100 examples of wasteful and fraudulent feder...

A $2.6 million National Institutes of Health weight loss program for truck drivers. A $283,500 Defense Department study on the daily activities of a “gnatcatcher.” And a $375,000 National Science Foundation study on the dating habits of American seniors.

These are some of the 100 examples of waste, fraud and duplicative federal programs and processes Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) identified in a new annual wastebook.

This year, Lankford offered a different twist on a tradition his predecessor, former Sen. Tom Coburn, left behind. “Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways Government Dropped the Ball” uses a football theme to describe areas of wasteful spending.

Lankford said he fears Congress is losing focus on federal spending and the national debt, which will soon reach the $19 trillion mark.

“There are a lot of national issues that we face right now,” he told reporters during a press conference Nov. 30. “All of them [are] very important to us. But the debt issue still remains. It’s one of those primary issues that has to be resolved and it can be resolved. There’s this belief somehow that it’s so large and so difficult to take on, it’s not fixable. It is fixable.”

Coburn  encouraged every congressional office to compile its own government wastebook, Lankford said. He joins Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who have released similar reports in the past.

“Sen. Lankford’s report has successfully built on the legacy of his predecessor, Sen. Tom Coburn, who worked for years to bring Washington’s profligate spending habits to public light,” Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz said in a statement. “Sen. Lankford should be applauded for taking the handoff from Sen. Coburn and moving the ball down the field so that taxpayers can finally score a few touchdowns in the ongoing fight against wasteful spending.”

Lankford offered a possible solution or “recovery” option for each of his 100 examples.

He took on everything from the aforementioned study on the “gnatcatcher” (“a very small woodland bird”) to the Earned Income Tax Credit.

He also targeted:

The Federal Protective Service: FPS deploys 101 more law enforcement vehicles than it needs, Lankford wrote. He also cited a recent inspector general report that found FPS bought more expensive SUVs without justifying $1.1 million in extra costs.

The solution: Lankford suggests Congress pass the Drive Less Act, which Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced in February. The bill would cut the federal fleet by 20 percent.

Real property: Agencies spent $1.67 billion as of 2010 on empty or under-utilized federal buildings.

The solution: Congress should require agencies to conduct annual real property assessments and publish the results to a public database, Lankford said.

Year-end spending sprees: Agencies spend 16.9 percent of their obligated contracting budgets in the month of September, a common practice which Lankford said has “wasteful consequences.”

The solution: Congress should first pass annual appropriations bills on time, Lankford wrote. He also suggests letting some agencies carry over unused funding from one fiscal year to the next through a pilot program.

OPM cyber breach: Major IT vulnerabilities and recent breaches to the Office of Personnel Management have left agencies scrambling, Lankford said. OPM spent more than $150 million on contracts to help repair the damage.

The solution: Lankford touts the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act as the first step toward fixing some critical vulnerabilities. He also suggested that OPM direct its employees to change their passwords more often.

Lankford did praise some agencies — like the Justice Department, which cut two-thirds of its conference budget in four years — who have made progress and found solutions on their own. He plans to update agencies’ progress in future wastebooks.

“Over the next year, our charge is to find solutions to these problems and prevent them from happening again — to turn these ‘fumbles’ into ‘touchdowns,’ or examples of the government getting the job done right,” he said in the wastebook. “Next year’s edition of ‘Federal Fumbles’ will have a list of these touchdowns so American taxpayers can see the improvements made in their government.”

Lankford encouraged his colleagues in the Senate and House to “actually do the work” and begin the lengthy process of balancing the budget.

“An unnecessary challenge is that we often cannot find the common ground to even set priorities, much less decide how to accomplish them,” he said. “We can all agree that the federal government has a job to do. It is time for us to pick up the ball, and do the work our constituents sent us here to do.”

But with less than two weeks left until funding expires, Congress still has plenty of work left to pass an omnibus budget deal for fiscal 2016, much less begin the difficult task of sorting through duplicative federal programs and cutting government waste.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday predicted renewed fights to cut Planned Parenthood funding would not shut down the government come Dec. 11.

Lankford offered a similar prediction, saying “I don’t think it will be.”

“But I do think it needs to be addressed,” he said.

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