August 23, 2016

Massive Accounting Failure at HUD

Kathryn Watson of the Daily Caller News Foundation reported yesterday that "Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials have ignored 63 financial management recommendations from Congress’ investigative arm since 2012 and only half-heartedly followed many more, resulting in the $43 billion agency’s books to be all but useless." In addition, she wrote:

"Things have gotten so bad at HUD so rapidly, that auditors who found only one “material weakness” in the department’s accounting in 2012 found nine in 2015, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published Monday."

According to Auditing Standard No. 5, "A material weakness is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting, such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the company's annual or interim financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis." In other words, says Investopedia, if unresolved, "a material misstatement could eventually occur in a company's financial statements, which would have a tangible effect on a company's valuation. For example, a $100 million overstatement in revenue would be a material misstatement for a company generating sales of $500 million annually." Government Finance Officers Association guidance is similar, and provided here.

Ms. Watson continued her reporting of what GAO found in their audit at HUD:

"The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has struggled to resolve persistent management challenges, in part because it has not consistently incorporated requirements and key practices identified by GAO to help ensure effective management into its operations,” GAO said. “In addition, HUD’s past remedial actions were not always effective because they were not sustained.”

“Turnover among senior leadership, shifting priorities, and resource constraints have contributed to HUD’s difficulties in implementing needed changes,” the report continued. “As a result, GAO and others continue to find deficiencies in numerous aspects of HUD’s operations.”

"The report — drawing from 15 years of GAO and HUD Office of Inspector General (IG) audits — particularly faulted HUD officials for failing to fix seven of eight financial accountability recommendations, and neglecting to dedicate staff members or policies to preventing waste, fraud and abuse.

"GAO’s concern for HUD’s financial state surrounded poor audits. Auditors found more “material weaknesses” with each passing year; the number jumped from one in fiscal year 2012 to nine in fiscal year 2015. HUD’s books, which auditors gave a “clean” opinion for 13 consecutive years until 2013, were in such bad shape in 2014 and 2015 that auditors couldn’t issue an opinion on them.

"GAO also criticized HUD for neglecting its oversight duties. The department “has not formalized key practices for program oversight and evaluation,” or “formally designated entities to manage fraud risk,” GAO said. HUD’s complicated structure, consisting of thousands of local housing authorities and contractors and dozens of programs, makes it ripe for waste and fraud, GAO said."

The U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) in question is "Department of Housing and Urban Development: Actions Needed to Incorporate Key Practices into Management Functions and Program Oversight" (GAO 16-497). It was published July 20, 2016, and publicly released August 19. The full report is 148 pages, but a two-page summary is available.

The summary includes the following infographic that shows the extent to which HUD met requirements or was following key practices for management functions.

 

In all my years of reading GAO audit reports, I cannot recall reading of a more massive accounting failure in the government sector. In the private sector, its equivalent could be the Enron Corporation scandal, which also resulted in the "de facto dissolution of Arthur Andersen." At the time, Arthur Andersen was one of the five largest audit and accounting partnerships in the world, according to Wikipedia.

For background information about the Department of Housing and Urban Development, see the HUD write-up at the Cato Institute's DownsizingGovernment.org project.

Add in the "Pentagon Money Pit," which we growled about on August 20, 2016, not to mention others, including the IRS scandal -- currently at day number 1202 according to the Tax Prof Blog, and you have to wonder if anyone in the federal government has a clue.

To paraphrase Dave Lindorff at CounterPunch.org. it's incredible that virtually no mainstream reporter or editor in the United States has seen fit to report this story to the American public. So kudos to Katie Watson for reporting on the GAO audit of HUD.

So, take a few minutes, and write to one of your Congressional representative to tell them your thoughts about the need for appropriate financial accountability and control as well as information security. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov website. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

August 22, 2016

It Costs How Much to Protect Us from Climate Change?

In a story at CNS News today, Terry Jeffrey writes that a new climate change regulation will increase the cost of a tractor-trailer over $15,000.

Here is part of Jeffrey's report:

"The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration jointly issued a new regulation last week that is meant to help protect the world from "climate change" by limiting “greenhouse gas emissions” and improving fuel efficiency in medium- and heavy-duty vehicles operated in the United States.

"The 1,690-page regulation is approximately 700,000 words long.

"A “regulatory impact analysis” published by EPA and NHTSA estimates the regulation will add an average of as much as $13,749 to the cost of a tractor truck and $1,370 to a trailer, making some tractor-trailer combinations $15,119 more expensive in 2027 than they would be under current regulations.

"While admitting that the regulation will increase the cost of trucks and the other vehicles it effects, the administration argues that the owners of these vehicles will actually save money by using less fuel and that the regulation “will result in up to $230 billion in net benefits to society.”

"These “net benefits to society” include what the administration calls “health benefits” and “energy security benefits.”

"The new regulations cover a range of vehicles running from heavy-duty pickup trucks and passenger vans, through “vocational vehicles” (such as garbage trucks, emergency vehicles and school buses), to large cargo trucks such as tractor-trailers.

"In a co-authored blog published on the White House website, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the regulation is part of President Obama’s 'Climate Action Plan.'"

You can read the complete article here.

Last month, we growled that "a new energy efficiency regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Energy to regulate wine refrigerators will 'cost small businesses $12,500 each.'"

We've growled repeatedly about the need to reduce both the tax burden and the regulatory burden shouldered by Americans in order to get the economy growing. For example, on May 24, 2016, we growled that individuals and business were drowning in ever more red tape, citing the Heritage Foundation's latest report on the regulatory state. See also the May 9, 2016 Growls about economic growth. And on December 15, 2015, we growled that the Obama administration would set a new record in 2015 for adding regulations, citing a Washington Times article by Stephen Dinan and a study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Talk about the costs that will be passed on to consumers? They were a trickle when the regulatory state began, but they are drowning individuals and businesses in a tsunami.

As we suggested in several recent Growls -- June 16, 2014; August 16, 2014; and September 20, 2014 -- but use the search facility (scroll down in the right-hand column) for others, we remain skeptical of the science, and, consequently, view the climate change regulations as little more than a scheme to redistribute wealth.

So, take a few minutes, and write one of your Congressional representative to tell them your thoughts on the latest climate change regulations. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov website. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

August 21, 2016

Is Virginia Prepared for the Next Recession?

In a new study published earlier this year by George Mason University's Mercatus Center, Erick M. Elder, professor of economics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, looks at how prepared the 50 states are to weather the next recession. The study's key finding is:

"To understand how prepared a state is to handle revenue shortfalls during a recession, policymakers need to answer two key questions: What target level of savings would be an appropriate buffer for revenue declines, and what proportion of possible recessions could the state weather with its current level of savings?"

Professor Elder provides this background:

"When recessions strike, state governments must often contend with revenue shortfalls resulting from declines in overall economic activity. Because many states have balanced budget requirements, falling revenues often mean states must raise taxes, cut spending, or do both. Most states have rainy day funds to smooth state spending across business cycles and reduce the need for tax hikes or budget cuts during recessions. Even with historically high rainy day fund balances before the Great Recession, many states did not have enough saved to avoid cutting spending or increasing taxes in 2009 and 2010. The rapid exhaustion of rainy day funds during the Great Recession raises the question of how well states have prepared for the next recession.

"A new study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University examines the current condition of state rainy day funds from across the United States. By comparing the balances of individual states’ rainy day funds as a percentage of their annual revenue with various levels of potential revenue shortfalls based on recession severity, the study finds that the vast majority of states have not saved enough to weather the average decline in revenue associated with the full range of potential recessions.

"Credit rating agencies and professional organizations for state policymakers have suggested that states should aim to save enough to cover between 5 percent and 16.7 percent of their annual spending or revenue, but this one-size-fits-all solution ignores variances in business cycle duration and severity among the states. This study accounts for differences among the states by using state-level public finance data and economic indicators to create potential distributions of savings goals for each state."

The following map is color-coded to show how each state is prepared to weather the next recession:

 

On my last eye exam, my ophthalmologist made no mention of color blindness; consequently, that puts Virginia in the unprepared category. Or as the study's author says, "Virginia could weather a mild recession, but not an average or severe recession."

A more complete description of how prepared Virginia is to weather a recession is here, and includes:

"Based on its business cycle characteristics, Virginia would need $1.15 billion to make it through a recession of average severity if the state decided to rely on its combined rainy day fund and general fund balances rather than cutting spending or raising tax rates. To weather a severe recession (at the 90th percentile of all possible economic contractions), Virginia would need funds that make up 17 percent of its revenue, or $3.08 billion. Using its current rainy day fund and general fund balances, the state is not prepared for the revenue shortfalls that would occur during a recession of average severity."

The author provides the following chart comparing Virginia's available cash and amounts needed to weather a hypothetical recession:

Incidentally, we look forward to completion of the analysis of Arlington County's financial reserves, which the Arlington County Board directed the County Manager to complete by October 1, 2016. It's item #22 on the Board's guidance and notes that accompanied the adopted FY 2017 budget, and we growled about it on May 7, 2016, specifically:

"Reserves: The County Manager will provide, no later than October 1, 2016, an analysis of the County’s various reserves and funding levels, including criteria for utilization of certain reserves, which will inform a possible update of the County’s financial and debt management policies."

Growls readers are urged to tell their members of the Virginia General Assembly to make sure that Virginia is prepared for the next recession. Ask them for the answers to the two key questions raised by the study's author in the key finding. The following legislators represent Arlington County in the Virginia General Assembly: Senators (Adam Ebbin, Barbara Favola, or Janet Howell) and Delegates (Rip Sullivan, Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, or Mark Levine). Contact information for members of the General Assembly can be found here  -- use one of the "quick links" to locate the senator and delegate who represent you.

And tell them ACTA sent you.

August 20, 2016

Are Army Accountants Epic Failures?

The American' Thinker's Rick Moran blogged today that "Army accountants make trillions of dollars in illegal  entries," citing a Defense Department inspector general (IG) report and a Reuters story.

Here's the lede, according to Moran:

"Our army may be a superior war-fighting force, but when it comes to keeping track of where the taxpayer's money is going, they are epic failures.

"A report by the inspector general of the Defense Department reveals that accountants made trillions of dollars in illegal entries – sometimes just pulling numbers out of thin air – in order to show the books balancing."

Here are  few of the details, according to Scot Paltrow of Reuters yesterday:

"The United States Army’s finances are so jumbled it had to make trillions of dollars of improper accounting adjustments to create an illusion that its books are balanced.

"The Defense Department’s Inspector General, in a June report, said the Army made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year. Yet the Army lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up.

"As a result, the Army’s financial statements for 2015 were “materially misstated,” the report concluded. The “forced” adjustments rendered the statements useless because “DoD and Army managers could not rely on the data in their accounting systems when making management and resource decisions.”

"Disclosure of the Army’s manipulation of numbers is the latest example of the severe accounting problems plaguing the Defense Department for decades.

"The report affirms a 2013 Reuters series revealing how the Defense Department falsified accounting on a large scale as it scrambled to close its books. As a result, there has been no way to know how the Defense Department – far and away the biggest chunk of Congress’ annual budget – spends the public’s money.

"The new report focused on the Army’s General Fund, the bigger of its two main accounts, with assets of $282.6 billion in 2015. The Army lost or didn’t keep required data, and much of the data it had was inaccurate, the IG said.

"Where is the money going? Nobody knows,” said Franklin Spinney, a retired military analyst for the Pentagon and critic of Defense Department planning.

"The significance of the accounting problem goes beyond mere concern for balancing books, Spinney said. Both presidential candidates have called for increasing defense spending amid current global tension.

"An accurate accounting could reveal deeper problems in how the Defense Department spends its money. Its 2016 budget is $573 billion, more than half of the annual budget appropriated by Congress."

If you're wondering how you can have trillions of dollars in accounting adjustments when the entire Department of Defense's FY 2016 budget is $573 billion, Reuters provides this explanation:

"At first glance adjustments totaling trillions may seem impossible. The amounts dwarf the Defense Department’s entire budget. Making changes to one account also require making changes to multiple levels of sub-accounts, however. That created a domino effect where, essentially, falsifications kept falling down the line. In many instances this daisy-chain was repeated multiple times for the same accounting item."

Moran concludes his American Thinker blog post, writing:

"Congress has ordered an audit for next year, at which time we're likely to receive a shock regarding how much taxpayer money is wasted.  With so much accounting tomfoolery, it's likely that waste and even fraud total tens of billions of dollars.

"It's painful to contemplate where that money might be spent."

Seems like the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) is little more than a government jobs program for accountants.

A summary of the Defense IG report in question seems to be the one entitled, Army General Fund Adjustments Not Adequately Documented or Supported (Project No. D2015-D000FL-0243.000), and includes a link to the complete report.

Take a few minutes to read Rick Moran's entire blog post. Better, read the Reuters story and/or the Defense IG audit report, and then take a few more minutes to write one of your Congressional representative to tell them your thoughts on the Army's accountant's slipshod accounting. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov website. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

August 19, 2016

No Surprise, Arlington's General Assembly Delegation Trails

Yesterday, we growled about a ranking by the libertarian Cato Institute about the degree of freedom among the 50 states. Today, we turn our attention to a ranking by the pro-business group, Virginia FREE.

Not surprisingly, the headline of this morning's online Arlington Sun Gazette story reads, "Arlington legislators in back of the pack on new business ranking."

Here's the introduction of the Sun Gazette story:

"Members of the Arlington delegation to the General Assembly scored near the bottom in the annual ranking put out by a pro-business group.

"Like many other organizations, Virginia FREE annually ranks members of the state Senate and House of Delegates on specific pieces of legislation during the past session.

“Unless we get government right, we can’t get our economy right,” said Pia Trigiani, who chairs the group’s board of directors. “We must constantly measure, manage and provide our representatives with the business knowledge to help grow our economy with pro-business legislative initiatives.”

"The ranking tends to favor the GOP; the highest-scoring Democrat in each house was lower on the rungs than the lowest-scoring Republican. But not one legislator, Republican or Democrat, scored lower than 50 on the 0-to-100 scale."

Here are the rankings of Arlington's General Assembly delegation. The Sun Gazette points out that in the Senate, "state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) ranked 24th with a score of 71.2. State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st) ranked 31st at 66.6, while state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th) was 39th and last at 58.9. (The organization did not include the 40th state senator, Newport News Democrat John Miller, who died in April.) . . . In the House of Delegates, Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th) ranked 77th of 100 at 66.5, with Del. Mark Levine (D-45th) 95th at 58.1, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th) 96th at 57.1 and Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) 98th at 56.0."

If you're wondering about the accuracy of the Virginia FREE rankings, consider the headline of an article yesterday at Blue Virginia, which admits it views "Virginia politics from a progressive and Democratic perspective." In a story headlined, "Taking the Reverse of the New “Virginia FREE” Rankings is Far More Accurate," the opening two paragraphs read:

"I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am to know that rankings by pro-business group “Virginia FREE” for the 2016 Virginia General Assembly session are now out. Wait, you’re not excited by an anti-labor, anti-anything-progressive, business front group headed by (hard-right-wing) former Del. Chris Saxman? (note: for more on Saxman, see Project Vote Smart, which clearly shows how anti-labor, anti-LGBT equality, anti-choice, anti-environment, etc. Saxman was as a delegate)

"So yeah, this group is the absolute pits, which means that if they grade you highly, you’re almost certainly bad, and if they grade you poorly, you’re probably good. With that, here are a few things that jumped out me about “Virginia FREE”‘s latest rankings."

Growls readers, who are interested in communicating with members of the Virginia General Assembly about the results of the latest Virginia FREE rankings are urged to provide their comments to their state legislators. The following legislators represent Arlington County in the Virginia General Assembly: Senators (Adam Ebbin, Barbara Favola, or Janet Howell) and Delegates (Rip Sullivan, Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, or Mark Levine). Contact information for members of the General Assembly can be found here  -- use one of the "quick links" to locate the senator and delegate who represent you.

And tell them ACTA sent you.

August 18, 2016

Virginia is Slightly More Free Than in 2012

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has just published its 2016 edition of Freedom in the 50 States, which "presents a completely revised and updated ranking of the American states based on how their policies promote freedom in the fiscal, regulatory, and personal realms." More about the 4th edition:

"This edition again improves upon the methodology for weighting and combining state and local policies in order to create a comprehensive index. Authors William Ruger and Jason Sorens introduce many new policy variables suggested by readers. More than 230 policy variables and their sources are now available to the public on a new website for the study. Scholars, policymakers, and concerned citizens can assign new weights to every policy and create customized indices of freedom, or download the data for their own analyses."

A one-minute video introduction to Freedom in the 50 States is available. A print edition can be purchased here. A print edition can be purchased here. A .pdf edition of the print edition is available here.

Overall, the Commonwealth of Virginia ranked #12, moving up three places from 2012. It scores best on fiscal measures with a ranking of #12, down one place since 2012. Its regulatory rating is #23, also down one since 2012. Its personal ranking is #34, an improvement of 11 since 2012. In addition, Virginia's economic ranking was #15, down two from 2012. Visit the website to see how Virginia ranked on other factors.

Virginia's state tax burden is ranked #12, down one from 2012 while its local tax burden in 2011 was #26.

The authors provide a detailed analysis for each state. Here's Virginia's:

"As a historically conservative southern state, Virginia has usually done much better on economic than personal freedom. However, we record some significant improvements in personal freedom in recent years. Due in part to rising cost of living, the Old Dominion has had one of the worst growth records in the country since 2006, though still better than neighbor Maryland.

"Virginia is a somewhat fiscally decentralized state with an average local tax burden (about 3.8 percent of income) and a below-average state tax burden (about 4.4 percent of income, a significant decline from FY 2007). Virginians’ choice in local government is subpar, with just half a competing jurisdiction per 100 square miles. Government subsidies and debt are low, and employment is average. These policies show little change over time.

"Virginia’s land-use freedom is generally good, although local zoning rules have tightened
in recent years, especially in the northern part of the state. Eminent domain reform has been effective. Labor law is well above average, with a right-to-work law, no minimum wage, fairly relaxed workers’ comp rules, and a federally consistent anti-discrimination law. Health insurance mandates have long been much higher than the national average and amount to more than 50 percent of the cost of an average premium. Cable and telecommunications have been liberalized. Occupational licensing is more extensive than in the average state. Nurses and dental hygienists enjoy little practice freedom. Insurance freedom is a bit above average, but Virginia has a CON law, price-gouging law, and mover licensing. The civil liability system is about average.

"Virginia’s criminal justice policies are worsen- ing. It now has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, even controlling for crime rates. Victimless crime arrest rates are about average. Asset forfeiture is virtually unreformed, and local police frequently circumvent it anyway with equitable sharing. The state’s approach to cannabis producers and consumers is draconian. Even low-level cultivation carries a yearlong mandatory minimum sentence, and life imprisonment is possible for a single marijuana offense not involving minors. Virginia is one of the best states for gun rights and has improved over time. Alcohol freedom is subpar but improved in the early 2000s as some regulations were withdrawn. State liquor store markups are still huge. Virginia has little legal gambling. Educational freedom grew substantially in 2011–12 with a new tax credit scholarship law. Tobacco freedom is better than average, with comparatively low cigarette taxes and respect for the property rights of private workplaces. The state was forced to legalize same-sex marriage in 2014, which also overturned the state’s oppressive super-DOMA banning all relationship-style contracts between two gay people."

The authors also make several policy recommendations. The rankings and analysis are combined into a single-page fore each state. Virginia's is here.

At Bacon's Rebellion yesterday, arguably Virginia's finest policy blog, Jim Bacon comments on Virginia's ranking, saying:

"If there’s any consolation, the overall score has improved three notches since 2012. Fascinating: In the four years between Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, Virginia has become more libertarian…. at least by Cato’s reckoning."

The best news about freedom is saved for last. John Gray, writing at Conservative Review yesterday, points out that New Hampshire has an overall Freedom Ranking of #1 in the Cato study. The top five states are:

  • #1 -- New Hampshire
  • #2 -- Alaska
  • #3 -- Oklahoma
  • #4 -- Indiana
  • #5 -- South Dakota

On July 14, 2016, we growled that Virginia had slipped as a place to do business.

Growls readers, who are concerned that Virginia and Virginians suffer from a lack of freedom, are urged to provide their comments to their state legislators. The following legislators represent Arlington County in the Virginia General Assembly: Senators (Adam Ebbin, Barbara Favola, or Janet Howell) and Delegates (Rip Sullivan, Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, or Mark Levine). Contact information for members of the General Assembly can be found here  -- use one of the "quick links" to locate the senator and delegate who represent you.

The importance of contacting your legislators can be seen in a story in the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record today. Unfortunately, most of it is behind the paper's paywall. However, the story's title says that "lawmakers blast tax burden, regulations." Although there is no way of knowing if the Cato story is one of the "multiple rankings," the story's lede says:

"Multiple rankings indicate that Virginia’s status as a business-friendly state continues to slip, a panel of lawmakers representing the Shenandoah Valley acknowledged Wednesday."

And tell them ACTA sent you.

August 17, 2016

A Thought about Taxes

"My friends, don't you believe that our taxes are too high, too complicated, and utterly unfair?"

~ Ronald Reagan

Source: page 29, "As Certain as Death: Quotations about Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

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Items in Growls are written by individual ACTA members and do not necessarily represent the views of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, Inc. Please send comments about Growls to The Growl Meister