Lankford Publishes Federal Fumbles

Senator James Lankford (R-OK), former Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) successor, is maintaining the Debt Doctor's legacy with his Federal Fumbles book published Monday. Lankford examines federal programs, agencies, and regulations to come up with 100 "fumbles" that he thinks could be corrected in order to enhance efficiency and cut government waste while streamlining the essential services that government can and does provide. Not only does Lankford provide descriptions of each misstep, he also proposes a solution for each of them.

As Lankford notes:

The purpose of this book is to highlight the work needed to make the federal government more fiscally responsible and less burdensome on the American people. It is not intended to collect dust on a shelf, sit in somene’s [sic] email to wait for later, or just receive honorable mention in the history books. It is truly a guide for next year—to guide us while we work through the federal budget, to encourage federal oversight, and to remind those of us who work in the federal government that we must be responsible servants of the people.

Additionally, Lankford intends to continue this work by publishing annual updates that show the government's progress in alleviating these "fumbles" and highlighting additional measures for scrutiny.

Included in the report are examples of not only waste, fraud, and abuse, but also of budget gimmickry and tax non-compliance. Below are a few of the 100 highlighted fumbles:

  • Creating fake savings in federal spending – Lankford cites Congress's penchant for using budget gimmicks in order to avoid tough spending decisions, a topic which we write about frequently. Two of the specific gimmicks that Lankford notes are CHIMPS and pension smoothing - you can read more about CHIMPS here and pension smoothing here.
  • End-of-year spending binge – Because the Fiscal Year ends on September 30th each year, many departments and government agencies tend to spend what they have leftover in their budgets in what Lankford calls a "spending binge." In order to fix this problem, Lankford supports a return to the regular budget and appropriations process as well as a trial program that allows spending authority to be carried over from year to year to see if this would decrease wasteful spending.
  • Failing to adequately check tax returns – One of the tax compliance oversights that Lankford refers to is the slow reporting of enrollment data from universities to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), resulting in more than $5 billion in education tax credits being given without evidence that the taxpayer had actually attended college. Our PREP Plan also includes a proposal to increase the accuracy of the same education credit to reduce improper payments and raise revenue.
  • $50,000 snail card game Of the more obscure fumbles described, a grant was given by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to produce an educational e-book, card game, and video game about biodiversity and killer snails. The report says "the Killer Snail project is hardly a compelling use of NSF funds" and points to a similar type of fund in the Department of Education's budget that already provides grants for educational games, making this NSF grant seem duplicative.
  • Cross-cultural raisins – Another more exotic fumble is part of the Department of Agriculture's Market Access Program, which provides $200 million per year to subsidize advertising, market research, and travel costs for private companies and trade groups to promote their products. In particular, Lankford points to the $3 million that went to the Raisin Administrative Committee, a group that promotes raisins in foreign countries.

The above are just a few important examples of the kinds of changes that could help restore our country to a responsible fiscal path. While they are not a substitute for tax and entitlement reform, they do serve as an extension of the helpful ideas previously featured in Sen. Coburn's Wastebook.

See all 100 ideas in the full Federal Fumbles. You can also read more about Sen. Coburn's 2014 Wastebook, and similar projects from other members of Congress: Rep. Steve Russell's (R-OK) Waste Watch No. 1, Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) America's Most Wasted, and Sen. Jeff Flake's Jurassic Pork.