Posted by Tws · June 20, 2012 2:26 PM
· 1 reaction
President Obama's Department of Justice recently released new regulations to prevent prison rape. "Sexual violence, against any victim, is an assault on human dignity and an affront to American values," Obama said when announcing the new initiative. "The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) was enacted with bipartisan support and established a 'zero-tolerance standard' for rape in prisons in the United States."
But the new regulations won't be cheap; it's expected to cost nearly $7 billion. Released today by the Federal Register, the cost more precisely will be $6.9 billion. The paperwork burden is expected to be 148,455 hours.
The costs, according to analysis produced by the American Action Forum, will be passed down to the states. "Despite an admirable goal, this 'landmark rule' imposes a costly, complicated regulatory framework on states currently battling recurring budget deficits, offers little assurance of success, and fails to explain this new burden to the states as required by the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act," the AAF analysis states.
The administration prescribes 43 different action items to combat prison abuse. Such tasks range from “Hiring and Promotion Decisions,” to specific parameters of a “Sexual Abuse Incident Review.” Under this new rule, federal requirements include minimum staffing levels for juvenile facilities, no time limit for “when an inmate may submit a grievance regarding [sexual abuse],” and “methods to ensure effective communication with inmates who are deaf or hard of hearing.” It requires that inmates be screened “for risk of being sexually abused or sexually abusive,” and that post incident reviews “consider whether the incident was motivated” by hate.
The administration cannot quantify how this regulation will reduce abuse. It merely establishes a series of “best practices” and amorphous requirements on states and local governments. There are no metrics for success. The DOJ itself admitted, “a requirement for specific outcome measures would be impractical to implement.”
Not only is success questionable at best, the DOJ’s own estimates illustrate the fiscal effects of such a heavy-handed approach. The Department predicts that average total costs for each year will equal nearly $470 million. Many of the annual estimates are slightly below that figure. However, DOJ estimated roughly $745 million in costs for the remaining months in 2012. This $300 million spike, compared to other years, demonstrates the steep learning curve for state correctional facilities.
DOJ also chose to ignore concerns about unfunded state costs. The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) requires federal agencies to explain the burden their rules impose on state and local governments. Currently, any rule imposing more than $162 million in annualized inter-governmental costs triggers UMRA’s threshold.
Even though this regulation would cost state and local facilities approximately $467 million per year, DOJ “concludes that the requirements of the UMRA do not apply to the PREA standards.” Why’s that?
The administration’s ability to skirt UMRA stems from one of the many loopholes in the Act. UMRA exempts regulations that enforce their dictates by leveraging “a condition of Federal assistance,” as this rule does. Although there is no statutory mandate compelling states to comply, non-compliance means a five percent reduction in federal prison funding. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is the national drinking age law, which withholds highway funding from non-compliant states.
Many states have already made substantial cuts to their correctional budgets. Yet, ignoring this regulation simply isn’t an option for states. This rule is undoubtedly an unfunded mandate – an expensive one that offers few assurances of success.
Posted by Wsj · June 20, 2012 2:25 PM
· 1 reaction
The next time someone moans about Washington "austerity," tell them about the Senate's food stamp votes on Tuesday. Democrats and a few Republicans united to block even modest reform in a welfare program that has exploded in the last decade and is set to spend $770 billion in the next 10 years.
Yes, $770 billion on a single program. And you wonder why the U.S. had its credit-rating downgraded?
When the food stamp program began in the 1970s, it was designed to help about 1 of 50 Americans who were in severe financial distress. But thanks to eligibility changes first by President George W. Bush as part of the 2002 farm bill and then by President Obama in the 2008 stimulus, food stamps are becoming the latest middle-class entitlement.
A record 44.7 million people received food stamps in fiscal 2011, up from 28.2 million as recently as 2008. The cost has more than doubled in that same period, to $78 billion, and is on track to account for 78% of farm bill spending over the next decade. One in seven Americans now qualifies.
Once there was a stigma to going on the dole, and it was seen as a last resort. But now the Agriculture Department runs radio and TV ads prodding people to get the free food, as in a recent campaign that says food stamps will help you lose weight. A federal website boasts about strategies that have "increased program participation" with special emphasis on Hispanics because "our data show that many low-income Latinos simply don't apply for [food stamps] even though they're eligible."
In the 1990s Bill Clinton boasted that welfare reform took Americans off the dole. The Obama Administration boasts about how many it has added.
Enter Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, who proposed reforms to limit the worst excesses. One proposal would have established a federal asset test to ensure that food stamps aren't going to families that may not have an income but have tens of thousands of dollars in savings or may even live in a million-dollar home. Some 39 states have no real asset test for food stamps, which means wealthy families without anyone in the job market are eligible, and 27 have gross-income limits that are above 130% of the federal poverty guidelines.
That amendment lost 56-43, with every Democrat except Missouri's Claire McCaskill opposing it. New England Republicans Scott Brown, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Nevada's Dean Heller joined the antireformers.
Mr. Sessions also tried to end the preposterous federal policy of paying some $500 million in bonuses to states that sign up more people for food stamps. This is the way government becomes a permanent feedback loop promoting even bigger government. That amendment lost 58-41, with every self-described Democratic "deficit hawk" opposed.
Still to come is an amendment on another egregious practice that lets some 15 states automatically enroll families for food stamps if they get federal home-heating subsidies. Some states mail heating subsidy checks of as little as $1 a month so families can qualify for federal food stamp benefits of as much as $130 a month. That amendment too is expected to fail.
It's true that the recession and feeble recovery have expanded the number of people who need food assistance, but Mr. Sessions's reforms would have harmed no one who really needs help. His amendments would have saved at most some $20 billion over 10 years, which would still leave some three-quarters of a trillion dollars in outlays.
Earlier this year, House Republicans passed their own food stamp reform that will save some $34 billion over a decade. That bill will now go to a House-Senate farm bill conference, and perhaps some savings can be salvaged. But the news in the Senate vote is that the political class still isn't remotely serious about reforming government. The voters are going to have to clean out a lot more spenders in November if they want real change.
Posted by The Blaze · June 18, 2012 2:12 PM
· 2 reactions
Become a member of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) and get a discount on Amtrak fare. But wait a minute: Amtrak is owned by the feds and NARP is an “advocacy group” that lobbies for train subsidies.Translation: the government-owned entity will offer discounts to customers who support NARP (a group that secures them subsidies), but will charge full price for customers who don’t join and may be opposed to more subsidies for an organization they’re already paying for.
Posted by Susan Ferrechio · June 18, 2012 1:45 PM
· 1 reaction
What does sparkly styling spray for dogs have to do with the 2012 farm bill? It's among the thousands of products U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing through little-known programs that have been embedded in the farm legislation for decades and that lawmakers are now fighting to extinguish.
The list of recipients of farm bill subsidies is long and sometimes laughable. There's money to study the healthfulness of peas and lentils. There are programs that support popcorn producers and winemakers. There's even a subsidy to encourage bird watching.
"I know that mothers all over America, that have advocated for their children to eat their peas, will be pleased to know that there is a study that is going to cost them $25 million to study peas, lentils and garbanzo beans," Sen. John McCain deadpanned on the Senate floor last week.
McCain, R-Ariz., is one of a handful of senators working to cut a variety of subsidy programs from the farm bill the Senate is now considering.
The massive farm bill sets policy and spending levels for the programs affecting agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry. It includes everything from crop subsidies to food stamps. The bill, last renewed in 2008, now costs $969 billion over 10 years, and senators hope to shave off $23 billion in savings.
But billions of dollars in the legislation are also dedicated to entities like the Market Access Program, which provides $200 million a year in taxpayer dollars to trade associations to promote U.S. products overseas.
Espree, the company that produces the styling spray for dogs ("Leaves the coat with specks of shiny glitter and aroma of Candy Cane") was aided by a taxpayer subsidy under MAP. But critics are more concerned about subsidies used to help much larger and more profitable companies like Blue Diamond, Sunkist and California Raisins, which received more than $93 million in federal funding since 1999 to market their products abroad.
"The truth is, MAP is classic corporate welfare that takes taxpayer dollars to benefit big businesses' bottom line," Steve Ellis, vice president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, told The Washington Examiner.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., targeted the MAP subsides last week with a farm bill amendment that would slash the program by 20 percent, in a move that aligns him with the Obama administration.
Coburn pointed out that not only are profitable businesses collecting subsidies, but in many cases, there is duplication and overlap with other agencies.
The Popcorn Board, for instance, gets $250,000 annually from the Department of Agriculture, yet a Nebraska-based gourmet popcorn maker received help with sales in Japan from Food Export USA, which took in $11.2 million from the MAP program in 2012.
"The time has come to debate whether the federal government should be in the business of promoting private-market goods to foreign buyers," Coburn said.
Vincent Smith, an economics professor at Montana State University and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the MAP subsidies can be of great benefit to smaller businesses that can't afford to advertise outside the United States and are often overshadowed by larger companies producing the same products.
"A legitimate question," Smith said, "is whether or not that should be funded by a levy on the industry or by taxpayers."
Posted by Ed Carson Ibd · June 12, 2012 10:36 AM
· 1 reaction
President Obama’s statement Friday that the private sector is “doing fine” drew so much ridicule that he was forced to backtrack hours later. But it’s clear that Obama and many other Democrats see job problems — and solutions — starting and stopping with government employment.
A quick look at payroll stats shows that’s not the case.
Private-sector jobs are still down by 4.6 million, or 4%, from January 2008, when overall employment peaked. Meanwhile government jobs are down just 407,000, or 1.8%. Federal employment actually is 225,000 jobs above its January 2008 level, an 11.4% increase. That’s right, up 11.4%.
Private payrolls have been trending higher in the last couple of years while government has been shedding staff. But that’s because governments did not cut jobs right away. Overall government employment didn’t peak until April 2009, 16 months after the recession started. It didn’t fall below their January 2008 level until September 2010.
The recession was boomtime for federal employment, especially after Obama took office. Federal jobs kept rising (excluding a temporary Census surge in early 2010) until March 2011 — more than three years after overall payrolls peaked.
Obama’s 2009 stimulus did little to revive private jobs, but did funnel massive funding to state and local governments. That, however, only delayed the day of reckoning for states and cities to curb spending. They finally did significantly slash jobs in 2010 and 2011. But those layoffs have slowed to a crawl in recent months — averaging less than 3,500 job cuts a month since November.
It’s easy to argue that Obama’s tunnel vision on government employment reflects his complete lack of experience in the business world. But it’s also mainstream Democratic thinking.
The Wisconsin recall election was about liberals’ zeal to maintain government employees’ privileges far and above those of struggling private sector workers who pay their salaries.
Payroll change since January 2008
Total: -5.01 million -3.6%
Private: -4.61 million -4%
Government: -407,000 -1.8%
Federal Government: (excluding post office) +225,000 11.4%
Sources: Labor Department, Datastream
Update: Why does Obama think the private sector is "doing fine"? "We've seen record profits in the corporate sector." And high corporate profits are good for tax revenues to pay for government programs and government jobs. That's the main reason Obama cares about the private sector.
Posted by Jim McElhatton · June 06, 2012 10:35 AM
· 1 reaction
A top administrator at the General Services Administration who worked on President Obama’s presidential transition team sought to keep secret the agency report that uncovered massive waste at a lavish taxpayer-funded GSA conference in Las Vegas, records show.
The 2010 conference, which cost $823,000 and featured a mind-reader, clowns, magicians and a red-carpet party, forced the ouster of several top GSA officials after the agency’s Office of Inspector General released its findings in April.
But months earlier, as word of the report was circulating among GSA officials, Ruth F. Cox, the agency’s regional administrator for several Western states, contacted a colleague in Washington asking what could be done to shield the report from public view.
“Is there something we can do to prevent another potential embarrassing episode from unfolding and keep this report from being made public?” she asked in an email obtained by The Washington Times.
Ms. Cox also expressed concern that the inspector general’s report was not entirely correct, though officials now say her comments were made before she saw the final report.
“We don’t need another $16 muffin public allegation that is eventually proven wrong and the damage is already done (and exacerbated by making a false allegation),” she wrote in an email she deemed “highly confidential.”
Adam Elkington, an agency spokesman, said Tuesday that Ms. Cox made the comments in the email before the release of the inspector general’s report and before “having any knowledge of the findings.”
“GSA, including Ms. Cox, is appalled by the missteps highlighted in the IG’s report and have taken disciplinary action against those responsible, accepted all of the IG’s recommendations and continue to take steps to ensure this never happens again,” Mr. Elkington wrote in an email to The Times.
“We welcome oversight and will continue to be guided by the highest level of transparency. GSA’s new Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini initiated a top-to-bottom review of our agency’s operations. GSA remains committed to eliminating excessive federal spending and promoting government efficiency.”
In the email, Ms. Cox also referred to Jeffrey Neely, former acting administrator for the region, who played a key role in organizing the conference and was seen on video boasting about how much fun the federal workers were having in Las Vegas.
“I know Susan is not happy that Jeff received a relatively high performance evaluation and bonus given what transpired with the Western Regional Conference, but my concern at this point is not Jeff but the agency and the administration,” Ms. Cox wrote. “Making this public to punish Jeff with a side effect of unnecessarily exposing the agency doesn’t make sense to me.”
In her email, Ms. Cox also said she shared concerns within the agency about Mr. Neely, who was facing scrutiny because of his agency-funded trips to Hawaii and other Pacific destinations.
The correspondence reflects early recognition within GSA about the potential impact of public disclosure and embarrassment for the administration. Officials were right to be concerned. Among those forced out in the wake of the scandal were former GSACommissioner Martha Johnson; a top adviser, Stephen Leeds; and Robert Peck, chief of GSA’s Public Buildings Service.
Soon after the audit was released, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew issued a statement condemning the expenditures and noting that Mr. Obama was outraged.
Ms. Cox was named regional administrator for the Pacific Rim in August, overseeing more than 1,000 employees and 1,200 government-owned and -leased buildings in California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada, as well as in overseas posts in Guam, Japan and American Samoa.
According to an agency biography, she was executive director of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association before joining GSA. She also has worked as executive director of the 21st Century Democrats and in the Obama-Biden transition team's office of intergovernmental affairs.
Meanwhile, Congress has held several hearings on the conference, including one where Mr. Neely, no longer employed by the agency, refused to testify and invoked his rights under the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.
The agency came under renewed scrutiny this week after members of Congress questioned more than $1 million in bonuses handed out to GSA employees who were being investigated for wrongdoing or misconduct.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, released information about the bonuses Monday and said the review would be broadened to include other federal agencies.
Meanwhile, Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has called on GSA to detail hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses paid out to “virtual” employees, including supervisors, who worked out of the office.
Posted by Daniel Halper · June 05, 2012 5:23 PM
· 1 reaction
Mitt Romney maintains that "President Barack Obama is holding on to the government's stake in General Motors to avoid an embarrassing financial loss before the election, and says he'd sell the stock quickly if he wins the White House," according to the Detroit News, which recently interviewed the Republican presidential candidate.
"There is no reason for the government to continue to hold (its GM stake)," Romney tells the news outlet. "The president is delaying the sale of the shares to try and avoid the story that the taxpayer took another loss. I would get the company independent from the government and run for the interests of the consumer and the enterprise and its workers -- not for the political considerations of government officials."
And that's the political reason: If it were to unload its shares today, the government would lost $16 billion on the deal. "At GM's Monday closing price of $21.11 a share, the government would lose $16 billion on its $49.5 billion bailout," the Detroit news reports.
Romney believes that this reason alone is why Obama won't sell the shares--since it would not be the politically expedient thing to do.
The government still owns 26 percent of GM, as it has for almost the last three years.
Posted by Jeanne Sahadi CNNMoney.com · June 05, 2012 4:45 PM
· 1 reaction
The Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday painted a stark picture of the country's fiscal future, which will be determined in part by tough choices lawmakers face in the coming months on the federal budget.
The CBO, the nonpartisan official beancounter in Washington, painted two scenarios for Congress.
The first assumes laws currently in place rule the day. That means lawmakers do nothing to lessen the effects of the so-called fiscal cliff and allow $7 trillion in tax hikes and spending cuts start to take effect in January.
Under that scenario over the long run, debt falls to 53% of the size of the economy by 2037 from more than 70% today. Tax revenue would rise to 24% of GDP in 25 years and keep growing. That would be well above the 18.3% historical average.
Simultaneously, spending in vast portions of the federal budget would shrink dramatically. Other than Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest, spending would fall to the lowest percentage of GDP since before World War II.
But entitlement spending would continue to increase because of the aging population and the rising cost of health care.
Specifically, spending on the major health care programs would nearly double to 10% of GDP in 2037 from more than 5% today. Social Security spending would rise much less sharply to more than 6% in 2030 from 5% today.
Related: Fiscal cliff likely to cause recession
By 2037, entitlement programs would account for 16% of GDP -- nearly as high as the historical average for all federal spending minus interest costs.
Then there's the second scenario analyzed by CBO -- the one many consider to be a more realistic outlook.
In that scenario, Congress largely leaves many of today's policies in place. Among them: The Bush tax cuts. Protection for the middle class against the Alternative Minimum Tax. A rollback of scheduled payment cuts for Medicare doctors.
The agency also assumes lawmakers cancel the nearly $1 trillion in spending cuts set to take effect next year.
So what happens?
First, spending on health care entitlements would be slightly higher, accounting for 10.4% of GDP.
Debt would be pushed to more than 90% of GDP by 2022, cross its historical high of 109% by 2026 and continue rising to nearly 200% by 2037. And that doesn't account for any negative effects that such high debt might have on the economy.
Despite growing demand for entitlements, revenues would level off at 18.5% of GDP, a little above the historical average. And spending on everything except the entitlement programs and interest would also hew to its historical average.
CBO made a point of noting in its report that today's high levels of debt are not solely due to the recent surge in spending and drop in revenues that resulted from the 2008 financial crisis and economic downturn.
"The growing debt also reflects an imbalance between spending and revenues that predated the recession," the agency said.
And under the current policy scenario that imbalance would be exacerbated.
In a separate report last month, the CBO estimated that allowing fiscal cliff policies to take effect all at once would likely cause a recession in 2013.
Posted by Jolie Lee · June 04, 2012 3:13 PM
· 1 reaction
An ongoing congressional investigation reveals $1.1 million in bonuses were awarded to 84 employees of the General Services Administration since 2008 — while the inspector general was probing these individuals for wrongdoing or misconduct.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is heading the investigation, said the overall number of employees receiving bonuses while under investigation is likely to be "far higher" since not all information for current investigations is now available, according to a release from the senator.
Of the 84 GSA employees, each received an average of eight bonuses, totaling $13,000. (See breakdown of bonus awards.) One program officer received more than $38,000 in bonuses since 2008, despite being reassigned for abuse of authority. Another employee, a GS-14 level supervisor, received more than $20,000 in bonuses, even after being reprimanded for interfering with an IG investigation, according to the release.
"It doesn't pass the smell test to be awarding huge bonuses in taxpayer dollars to officials who are being investigated, or have already been found responsible, for fraud and waste of those very taxpayer dollars. That's why I'm not letting up on our fight for accountability in government," McCaskill said in the release. McCaskill is the chairman of the subcommittee on contracting oversight in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The GSA has no policies to freeze bonuses to employees under investigation by the IG, according to the release.
A GSA spokesman said the agency is conducting a "top-down review" of its operations.
"This comprehensive review of our agency operations includes all bonus payouts in recent years — especially for those individuals under investigation by GSA's Inspector General," said Adam Elkington, GSA spokesman, in an email to Federal News Radio.
In most cases, the IG's office does not alert GSA about employees under investigation because the individuals are presumed not guilty until the investigation is complete.
The scrutiny of GSA came most heavily starting in April after an investigation by the IG revealed the agency spent more than $823,000 on a Las Vegas conference in 2010. Among the employees investigated was Public Buildings Service Region 9 Commission Jeff Neely, who received a $9,000 bonus despite being under investigation.
In a letter to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, McCaskill asked for information from 2008 to 2011 on bonuses awarded to all federal agencies, "including what actions OPM could take to ensure that bonuses that would otherwise be awarded to federal employees under investigation by the Inspector General are withheld pending the resolution of the investigation."
McCaskill gave OPM a deadline of June 20 for the federal employee bonus information.