Government & Constitution

It’s Time for Government Accountability

Liberals constantly declare that money corrupts, but have you ever heard one acknowledge that government money corrupts even more?

After all, at least private entities must answer to shareholders, the public, board members, owners, accountants, customers, numerous government agencies, or other authorities. Moreover, private companies must publish detailed and accurate financial statements, under penalty of government prosecution, as well as frivolous class-action lawsuits.

In contrast, how can we monitor government waste? How can citizens hold it accountable?

Everyday taxpayers simply lack the information to ascertain the hidden beneficiaries of our bloated federal budget, or the amounts that they receive.

According to the General Services Administration, the federal government subsidizes $300 billion in grants to some 30,000 groups. Specific data on these grants, however, is scattered across innumerable sources, is unspecific, and is difficult to obtain. Typically, citizens must therefore go to the trouble of filing a Freedom of Information Act request, and subsequently battle agency bureaucrats to ascertain the amount and source of taxpayer funding.

This problem manifests itself vividly when it comes to government-funded “studies” by supposedly “independent” entities, which are subsequently cited to bolster the very same funding agency’s preexisting policy position.

For example, University of Connecticut Associate Professor Leslie Snyder recently published a study asserting a direct link between alcohol advertising and increased underage drinking. Liberal advocacy groups and regulatory agencies naturally trumpeted Professor Snyder’s study in their continuing efforts to further regulate our lives and the free market.

One small problem: Professor Snyder’s study has already been eviscerated as scientifically and internally flawed. In the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, internationally-renowned Drs. Reginald Smart and Don Schultz offer two separate critiques. Among other problems, Professor Snyder’s original results reveal that those who viewed the most alcohol advertising actually decreased their underage drinking. Further, some 69% of the study’s participants dropped out before the study was even completed. Dr. Smart, a World Health Organization consultant with over 40 years of experience, concluded that “this suggests a biased, one-sided view of alcohol advertising effects.”

As another example of government-subsidized sham “studies,” recall the recently-celebrated National Academy of Sciences paper allegedly establishing a human cause behind climate change. Liberals and their mainstream media mouthpieces again trumpeted this piece, but some scientists listed hadn’t actually written the study or even seen it prior to publication.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate expert Richard S. Lindzen, for instance, opposed the piece publicly. This merely demonstrates that government research dollars steer toward advocates of “global warming,” naturally encouraging recipients to justify the federal dollars and perpetuate the false “need” for further studies and taxpayer funding.

In this way, supposedly “independent” non-governmental entities receive taxpayer largess to produce studies bolstering a desired political conclusion. Government bureaucracies naturally have an interest in perpetuating their existence, and citation to biased policy pieces is one of their primary tools for achieving that end. Accordingly, “independent” researchers don’t dare jeopardize their access to federal funding by contradicting the policy preferences of bureaucrats who control such funds, thereby creating a self-justifying cycle of taxpayer waste.

Furthermore, those bureaucrats who control the largess have no interest in facilitating taxpayer inquiry into the amounts and recipients of their dollars.

In a democratic republic such as ours, taxpaying citizens simply shouldn’t be compelled to navigate bureaucratic obstacles to determine the beneficiaries of their hard-earned dollars.

But help may be on the way in the form of Senate Bill 2590, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. This bill, sponsored by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn and co-sponsored by Senators Barack Obama (D.-Ill.), John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Tom Carper (D.-Del.), would create a publicly-available website listing every recipient of federal grants or contracts.

This effort would be inexpensive and would dramatically increase transparency of government funding decisions. The advent of the Internet makes this a workable goal, as demonstrated by ExpectMore.gov, which monitors the performance of over 800 federal programs.

With this legislation, taxpayers could more easily examine previously-secluded bureaucratic waste, and demand change.

Furthermore, as illustrated by the bipartisan sponsorship of the bill, citizens of all political perspectives stand to benefit. Budget hawks could better shine the cleansing light of day on bureaucratic waste, environmentalists could target efforts they consider ecologically harmful, and social conservatives could identify funds encouraging behaviors they oppose.

Simply put, Americans of every political persuasion must demand that their senators pass S. 2590, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. Good governance demands it.

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