Do American taxpayers get a good return for their tax dollars?
One might expect a negative answer from most Americans who read or see news reports about waste in government spending. But what about readers of the FedSmith site? Most of these readers work (or used to work) within goverment agencies and have a perspective that most taxpayers never know about. Our readers see how many is spent on a daily basis and some of them actually approve the expenditures.
So, from the insider’s point of view, do the taxpayers get a good return on their money?
The answer is clear. 79% of those responding to our recent survey say "no" the taxpayer does not get a good return. Only 15% of readers responding answered "yes" to the question: "In general, do American taxpayers get a good return for their tax dollars from the federal government?" 6% answered they were "not sure."
The reasons for the negative response varied widely. The most common complaint cited by readers was pork inserted into spending bills by Congress and earmarks dicatated by Congress for specific projects. The practice of earmarks is certainly leading to a decreasing confidence in government and has apparently generated rampant cynicism toward government spending and a negative view of Congress.
Some readers cited problems within their agencies that were examples of how many is wasted. A few readers cited their agencies as ones where money was well spent.
A number of readers also cited the war in Iraq as an example of a waste of large amounts of tax dollars.
Here is a representative sample of the hundreds of comments sent in by readers on this issue.
A supervisor with Customs and Border Protection in Miami, FL wrote: "Instead of spending on manpower and other essential needs, funds are allocated and wasted on equipment that does not enhance the overall mission of securing our borders. Washington is far removed from the field and has no clue what is needed in the trenches."
A registered nurse with Veterans Affairs in Seattle says that medical research procedures are a big problem in that agency: "The greatest waste of tax money that I witness is in the area of medical research. I hate to say it, but I see incredible waste. The grant recipients buy the most expensive tech equipment, computers, faxes, copiers, etc. despite having use of the very same things on site. They hire people not knowing what all the duties are, so often the employees are sitting around twiddling their thumbs for hours on end….And at the end of their grants–nothing. No great discovery, no new ‘insight’, nothing but a a taxpayer tab. This really needs to be looked at."
A purchasing agent with the Forest Service in Montana says the money for the agency is often wasted: "The taxpayers dollar would go further if we did not have to spend so much of our time and effort in placating all the groups that do not think we know how to do our job. So much money is going into NEPA, EIS and other reports to justify our practices on the forest. It does not matter how much we research, write or care about our forests, there will always be someone who does not like what we are doing and will take us to court. This is where most of the taxpayers money is going and not to the ground were it needs to be."
A retiree from the Forest Service in Portland, Oregon commented: "Having worked for the government for 40 yeras I find them incapable of doing anything except seeking more and more tax money. The answer to any problem is ALWAYS GIVE ME MORE MONEY."
A labor relations officer for EPA in Chicago says the executive branch does better than Congress: "My take on this is that Agencies’ misuse of funds is not as bad as Congress’, i.e. junkets during Easter break and other breaks."
A management analyst with the Social Security Administration in Baltimore thinks that agency spends money wisely but is one of the few: "I can only answer for my agency, and in my opinion SSA does spend the taxpayers’ dollars wisely and gives then a real bang for their buck. However, I– like my fellow taxpayers– read the horror stories about FEMA, Homeland Security and DOD, and I have serious doubts about how THEY are spending our tax dollars."
An analyst with the Marine Corps in California sees the DoD travel system as encouraging wasteful spending: "One of the biggest waste/abuse systems without our govermental structure is the Defense Travel System. Flights can be procured much cheaper through such outlets as Orbitz, Cheap Flights etc. Many times I have personally view the government spending over a $1,000.00 per seat for the same seat that I could have booked myself for less than $300.00. Multiple this across DoD and there is no way you can justify this level of waste and abuse of taxpayers money."
An officer with the Transportation Security Administration in Dallas is not optimistic: "Many govt. employees are overpaid, money is wasted, the congress spends money foolishly, and many get compensation which is not due."
A transportation security officer with the TSA, also in Dallas, wrote: "There is too much waste and pork barrel spending on "special Interest" groups and projects for pure political gain."
A vocational rehabilitation counselor with the VA in Minnesota has a positive outlook on spending: "I take pride in working with Veterans and realize that I am responsible for making good use of my time at work, offering excellent customer service, practicing good case management techniques, and offering sound vocational advice to our injured veterans. It is evident to me that the majority of VBA employees are energetic, enthusiastic federal employees who take pride in the service they provide and seek to offer the best they can under the stress of heavy caseloads, time constraints , and within the confines of confusing and ambiguous regulations and numerous outdated operating and recording systems."
A commissioner with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service says the agency saves money for taxpayers: "In my 30th yr as a mediator in the greater Detroit area and 28 yrs in Cincinnati, Southern Ohio and N. Kentucky, 0ur Agency has prevented strikes and shorten(ed) work stoppages with the help of FMCS mediators."
A security officer with Homeland Security in Texas sees a lot of unnecessary spending: "Too much waste; not enough control over federal spending by those in positions of acquisition and procurement. Too much Congressional pandering to special interest groups."
A computer specialist with the Indian Health Service in Anchorage, Alaska sees considerable waste in the agency there: "Since the tribes took over management from the federal government I see a lot of wasted money buying commercial off the shelf software that doesn’t talk to our database and millions more spent trying to accomplish this goal, when they have the option of free software and support from the IHS. It was better when a it was federally mandated what software and systems were purchased."
A program analyst with DCMA in Alexandria, VA says crime pays for Members of Congress: "All you have to state is "Pork" and you know that Congress is out of control. Every special interest is pandered to by some representative looking for votes and campaign contributions. Term limits must be implemented with no one staying beyond ten years and then no working for lobbyists after their term is up for five years. Crime seems to pay for our representatives."
A program manager with the IRS in Lanham, Maryland says there is a good return: "I believe we do get a good return, especially when compared to other nations. However, I also believe that we as a nation could be more responsible we how the taxpayers dollars are spent."
A supervisory HR manager from the Army in Alexandria, VA had this comment: "On a personal level, the Federal tax provides me with a salary and benefits, while others benefit from social security, military retirement and disability, military protection, immigration, EPA, etc. The entire alphabet soup of Federal agencies (including the Smithsonian). However, the Feds also share with the states – roads, bridge repair, education, etc. I do resent the continuing high cost of this darn war."
Our thanks to all readers who took the time to participate in this survey and a special thanks to those who took the time to send in their written comments on the issue.