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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Washington Post Runs Front Page Piece Exposing Wasteful Program Costing 0.00008 Percent of Federal Budget

Washington Post Runs Front Page Piece Exposing Wasteful Program Costing 0.00008 Percent of Federal Budget

Saturday, 28 December 2013 09:06

Yes, the investigative team at the Washington Post is back on the trail. Today's front page expose highlights a government program that uses 0.00008 percent of the federal budget to promote the health benefits of walnuts. The piece tells readers that this program is a "hard not to crack." It explained that even though Representative Tom McClintock pushed to kill the program; Congress voted 322-98 to keep it, claiming that it provided benefits to farmers.

Of course this is not the only example of a wasteful program uncovered by the Post's investigative team. They also highlight the "Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation," a program that runs an essay contest for middle schoolers interested in science. This one takes up 0.00001 percent of the federal budget. Then we have the Lake Murray State Park Airport in Oklahoma on which the government wastes 0.000004 percent of its budget each year.

And, the Post reminds us of its earlier investigative work, like when it exposed the fact that 0.006 percent of Social Security benefits are sent to dead people in an earlier front page story. The Post adds to this that each month Social Security mistakenly identifies 0.00003 percent of its covered population as being dead even though they are still alive.

After going through a number of very small programs that the Post has decided are wasteful, the article implies that somehow spending has not actually been cut.

"Three years after deficit-driven Republicans took the House, Washington’s experiment with budget-cutting has produced mixed results. Politicians have, indeed, had historic success cutting numbers — the abstract, friend-less figures at the bottom of the federal balance sheet.

"In the next fiscal year, for instance, the government’s “discretionary” spending will be limited to $1.012 trillion. That figure was set by the budget deal agreed to last week. That’s down about 13 percent from 2010, adjusting for inflation.

"There has been very little change in 'mandatory' spending programs, which account for the vast majority of federal spending."

Of course spending has actually been cut. The result has been that growth has been stunted. Hundreds of thousands more people are unemployed. This means that the spending cuts demanded by the Post in both its editorial and news sections has thrown the parents of our children out of work. These cuts have also made it much more difficult for young people just leaving school to find jobs.

The Post's complaint about the fact that mandatory spending has not been cut reflects the fact that people across the political spectrum overwhelming support Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the other programs that account for the overwhelming majority of mandatory spending. The Post and its chosen sources, in this case the Concord Coalition, a Peter Peterson creation, are relatively lonely in pushing for cuts to these programs.

It is also worth noting that mandatory spending actually is now projected to be considerably lower as a result of a sharp slowdown in the rate of growth of health care costs. Spending for Medicare and Medicaid in 2020 is now projected to be about 10 percent less than was projected in 2010. The projected savings in later years are even larger.



I see from comments that some folks think it is appropriate to make a big deal about items that might be less than 0.0001 percent of the budget. That's great if you want to spend your time on these relatively small amounts of spending, but it means that your efforts will have no noticeable impact on overall spending and deficits. If you want to have an impact on overall spending then you have spend your time on items that actually involve a big share of the budget. That's just arithmetic.

My guess is that the vast majority of readers of the WaPo have no idea how insignificant the items it chose to highlight were to the overall budget because it never provided this information. Since most people have relatively little time to concern themselves with such issues, my guess is that they would rather focus on items that actually do have a noticeable impact on spending and deficits rather ones that the paper chose to highlight in an effort to make the government seem wasteful.


Correction made on projections for Medicare, thanks ltr.

Comments (15)Add Comment
written by ltr, December 28, 2013 9:41
Spending for Medicare and Medicaid in 2020 is now projected to be about 10 percent less than in 2010. The projected savings in later years are even larger.

[This makes no sense. Possibly the projection is 10 percent lower, but unless the idea is to destroy Medicare and Medicaid spending for the programs in 2020 will not be 10 percent less than in 2010.]
Size alone is not justification, Low-rated comment [Show]
Cutting spending does not hurt private sector except..., Low-rated comment [Show]
No need to pay taxes then, Low-rated comment [Show]
written by djb, December 28, 2013 11:59

Washington Post = Fox News

didn't used to be
written by djb, December 28, 2013 12:10
re :

written by Bill H, December 28, 2013 11:08

but Bill

do you honestly think we have a danger of not being able to provide enough goods and services to supply our citizens needs??

and that it is because of government programs???

like advertising for our some of our farmers products, or encouraging kids who are motivated to study

or helping a small town pay for an airport
written by watermelonpunch, December 28, 2013 1:17
My guess is that the vast majority of readers of the WaPo have no idea how insignificant the items it chose to highlight were to the overall budget because it never provided this information.

I would agree that this is likely the case.

Whatever your views on walnuts, or walnut farmers, or nuts in the context of health, or where you fall on the should we or shouldn't we...
People deserve to have the context of such spending, if they're going to bandy about references to the budget.
written by TOM, December 28, 2013 3:18
I wonder how many dead people the post still has listed as subscribers to their hack newspaper.
written by JDM, December 28, 2013 8:31
But you plug a hole here and plug a hole there, eventually it adds up to 1/100th of 1 percent. Somehow it doesn't have the same impact as the Dirksen original.
written by Bart, December 29, 2013 9:39

Leon Panetta is a walnut farmer and no doubt a pension triple dipper in need of help for his nuts.
Of market power, poor service, and the slowdown in Medicare spending
written by Rachel, December 29, 2013 10:46

Is Medicare spending just slowing down due to the weak economy? Or partly due to ACA changes? And if the latter is to any extent true, is this because of significant reductions in waste and excess medical profits? Or does this slowdown come mostly at the expense of patients?

The head of the Kaiser Family Foundation, Drew Altman, is hoping, like Dean, that some improvements are due to the ACA (though Altman notes that the cost slowdown started before the ACA). But he also acknowledges that we may soon see a "raft of mergers and consolidations." This of course would lead to real trouble for health care consumers in the future.

And in fact, this has happened before. The "managed care revolution" was an effort to control costs. Unfortunately, in the San Francisco Bay Area this induced doctors and CEOs to promote serious hospital consolidation, leading to much higher costs and profits. And as a result, the Dartmouth Health Atlas shows that the level of service to the Medicare community in the Bay Area is now disturbingly low, down in the BOTTOM quintile. That's as bad as New York, and worse than Detroit. Ugly business. And it may be coming soon to a city near you.
written by PeonInChief, December 29, 2013 10:57
Hmm. My husband tried to balance our check book and was $.61 off. Instead of telling him to write it off, I should have had the Post reporters hunt down the arithmetic error. They seem to be good at finding stuff like that.
Correction: ... wouldn't want to underrate the role of other market barriers
written by Rachel, December 29, 2013 11:57

Serious underserving of non-HMO Medicare patients in the SF Bay Areas: I should not have suggested that it is to a major extent caused by hospital consolidations. But they have led to increased costs. Notably, we've now got many nurses making about $140,000 a year, twice national average. That does raise the cost of a family medical practice. But other monopoly situations also contribute to the underserving of Bay Area Medicare patients. And there is also the way the US inflates doctors' incomes by not funding enough residency positions. So the US as a whole is surprisingly undeserved medically.
We're running out of digital data?
written by Justin S, December 30, 2013 11:36
People, remember this is all fiat money! It mostly just takes the form of digital data. Everybody knows digital data cannot really be "wasted" or "run out of" in any physical way. Uncle Sam spends money the same way the Washington Post writes its garbage articles...by pressing buttons on a keyboard. Government spending should be analyzed based on how it allocates real resources, and potentially drives up the cost of things for the private sector. Focusing on the spending #'s themselves is utterly pointless.
written by ezra abrams, December 30, 2013 8:07
JDM - good one

Bill H
I am sure you agree that resources are finite, including resources to investigate waste fraud abuse (wfa)
So, whoever is doing the investigating - WaPo, D Issay, the FBI - has only so much money and so many people

So, should they investigate waste that is less the 1/10th of one cent on the dollar, or should they investigate waste that is 2 or 3 cents on the dollar ?

or, if you added all the programs mentioned by our host together, multiplied by 10, you might have the waste in a big DoD contract

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.