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Paying the dead example of wastefulness

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas

There isn’t much about dysfunctional government that shocks me anymore, but this story did.

According to a report by the Office of Personnel Management and reported in Ed O’Keefe’s “The Federal Eye” column in the Washington Post, our government has been sending checks to dead people. “In the last five years,” O’Keefe writes, “the Office of Personnel Management has made more than $601 million in payments to dead federal retirees, according to the agency’s inspector general. Total annual payouts range between $100 million and $150 million.”

This isn’t something new. Inspector General (IG) Patrick McFarland had urged OPM in 2005 and again in 2008 to more closely monitor such payments. It appears his advice has gone unheeded.

“Improper payments to dead retirees are up 70 percent in the last five years,” cites the OPM report. In one outrageous case, the son of a deceased annuitant kept receiving federal benefits for 37 years after his father’s death. OPM didn’t learn about the improper payments until after the son died. Of course, the agency never recovered any of the money. Could this be why the government has no qualms about spending other people’s money?

Senator Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, conducted an investigation and reported last October on his findings. Coburn discovered that “the federal government had paid nearly $1 billion to at least 250,000 dead people since 2000. That same month, a watchdog reported that the Obama administration’s economic stimulus program had made 89,000 payments of $250 each to dead or incarcerated people,” writes O’Keefe.

I wonder how many of the dead and incarcerated got to vote and for whom?

As congressional Democrats and Republicans play another round of “chicken” over what, if anything, can be cut from the bloated budget and engage in phony theatrics over another possible government shutdown, those members who wish to be more responsible with other people’s money ought to make the issue of wasteful spending central to the upcoming campaign.

After removing the dead and incarcerated from the federal payroll, they can go after an agency that touches all Americans: the United States Postal Service (USPS). According to Citizens Against Government Waste (www.cagw.org), “The USPS has 600,000 employees and is the second largest employer in America behind Wal-Mart. The USPS Office of Inspector General reported that employees were paid $21.9 million for 875,540 hours of ‘stand-by’ time in FY 2010, and $4.3 million for 170,666 hours in the first half of FY 2011. The USPS also has a 24 percent vacancy rate in its 284 million square feet of interior office space.”

The problem is that once a federal agency or program is started, it is easier to find an honest politician than it is to cut something from the budget. Ronald Reagan noted the only proof of eternal life on Earth is a government program. Being dead does not have to remove one from the “spread the wealth” mentality of the current administration, or any administration. Misspending is clearly bipartisan.

Then there’s Solyndra, the California solar panel company that received half a billion dollars in loan guarantees and then declared bankruptcy. Solyndra officials invoked the 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination last week before a congressional committee.

Also last week, Senate Democrats rejected a continuing spending resolution passed by the House because, among other reasons, it contains cuts in the very solar energy program that funded Solyndra. So just because a company or a person dies does not necessarily disqualify them from receiving additional taxpayer money (borrowed from the Chinese, of course). Eternal life, you see.

It is beyond disgraceful that so many elected officials and unelected bureaucrats continue to waste so much of our money, all the while demanding we be taxed more because they can’t “afford” to cut a dime and some of us allegedly aren’t contributing our “fair share.”

We are past not being able to afford our government and it’s long past time to start cutting them off, much as a parent might stop sending money to a spendthrift college student who wastes it on partying and high-living.

Email Cal Thomas at Cal Thomas at tmseditors@tribune.com.