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August 31, 2014

USDA Stimulus Programs ‘Inherently Not Shovel Ready’

On Friday, August 29, the Washington Free Beacon's Elizabeth Harrington reported that an audit of the so-called "Recovery Act" at the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that over five years, $5 billion was misspent. According to Harrington:

"More than five years after the stimulus was signed into law, a new audit reveals the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) spent nearly $5 billion in questionable costs and funded programs that were “inherently not shovel ready.”

"The Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a “lessons learned” audit on Wednesday, reviewing how well the USDA oversaw $28 billion in stimulus funds from the Recovery Act. The audit compiled results of over 80 reports conducted by the OIG. (emphasis added)

"“As a result of these reviews, we also reported monetary exceptions of over $5.1 billion, including $4.9 billion related to questionable or unsupported costs,” the audit said.

“Most programs that received Recovery Act funds were expected to quickly pump money into the economy by immediately executing infrastructure and labor intensive projects,” the OIG said. “These were known as ‘shovel ready’ projects.”

“However, our reviews discovered USDA encountered challenges because several of its programs were inherently not ‘shovel ready,’” they said."

Harrington adds. "The largest area of mismanagement of stimulus funds came from the Single Family Housing Loans and Grants program, which is meant to secure homeownership for low-income Americans in rural areas." She provides these added details:

"The stimulus provided loans for 17 borrowers who “had no history of stable and dependable income,” and six loans were for properties that had aboveground swimming pools, which was strictly prohibited under the law.

“From our statistical sample, we project that 1,772 loans, worth $208 million (22 percent of the universe), may have similar noncompliance issues related to ineligible borrowers and properties,” the audit said.

"Overall, the Rural Housing Service that oversaw the program provided $4.16 billion from the stimulus to ineligible recipients.

“We concluded that the controls were not always adequate to safeguard Recovery Act funds and ensure that funds were expended in a manner that minimized the risk of improper use,” the OIG said.

“Specifically, we identified ineligible borrowers who received loan guarantees, even though they did not demonstrate the ability to repay the loan, possessed incomes that exceeded program limits, possessed sufficient financial resources to obtain loans without a government guarantee, already owned adequate housing in their local commuting areas, or purchased homes that had swimming pools,” they said."

Get eady to weep and outraged about more government waste, fraud and abuse as Harrington concludes:

"The USDA also had problems monitoring the $19.8 million in increased benefits for food stamps provided by the stimulus. “Specifically, the audit concluded that four of six selected States did not fully comply with Recovery Act provisions for transparency and accountability,” the audit said.

"Of the nearly $5 billion in unsupported costs, the USDA has recovered only $11 million. The OIG still has seven open investigations for fraud and abuse of Recovery Act funds."

All that "shovel ready" seems to have been nothing more than government bureaucrats shoveling manure. What is needed, however, is for voters to get out their shovels, and get rid of the tax-and-spend politicians and their bureaucratic underlings. The most important of the "lessons learned" from the IG audit seems to be the federal government wastes 18.2% ($5.1 billion/$28 billion) of the taxpayers' hard-earned tax dollars entrusted to the politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. What a scam!

Taxpayers reading Growls who are upset that Congress seems to do nothing but authorize more waste, fraud, and abuse of their hard-earned tax dollars are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376
And, tell them ACTA sent you. Kudos, too, to Elizabeth Harrington and the Washington Free Beacon.

August 30, 2014

Why Punish Taxpayers and/or Metro Users?

In an online story, one week ago on Saturday, August 23, at the Washington Times website, Phillip Swarts reported that "D.C. Metro will pay $4 million fine for abusing government grants. "According to Swarts:

"D.C.’s Metro system paid a $4.2 million settlement to the federal government after it used taxpayer money to help a favored contractor, the Justice Department announced this week.

"Metro gave a private business a $14 million contract, without any competition or bidding from other companies, government records show, violating the Federal Transit Administration’s policies for the use of grants and funds.

“The American people have a right to know that their government is following rules and regulations in spending the taxpayers’ money,” said Ronald Machen, the U.S. Attorney for D.C.

"Metro officials could not be reached for comment Friday."

Why didn't Metro or the federal government go after either Metro's contracting officer who awarded the grant or the senior executive official at Metro responsible for contracts and grants. Either or both of those officials presumably should have known the contract/grant was awarded improperly. And shouldn't an official at the Federal Transit Administration, who was responsible for awarding the grant, have done more to assure the grant was properly awarded?

As is, the burden of the settlement falls on the backs of Metro riders and/or taxpayers who subsidize Metro.

I have asked Arlington County Board member Mary Hynes, a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) Board, for comment, and will "update" this Growls with their comment as appropriate.

Growls readers, who are concerned about this issue, are urged to contact the Arlington County Board. You can e-mail the County Board by clicking-on the following link, or call them:

  • Call the Board office at (703) 228-3130

August 29, 2014

A Thought on Greed

“I have never understood why it is "greed" to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else's money.”

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: GoodReads.com.

Cool NOTE: ElGrowlerGrande has returned; hope to be growling on a daily basis for the foreseeable future..

August 18, 2014

A Thought on Political Grievances

"The fundamental problem of the political Left seems to be that the real world does not fit their preconceptions. Therefore they see the real world as what is wrong, and what needs to be changed, since apparently their preconceptions cannot be wrong.

"A never-ending source of grievances for the Left is the fact that some groups are “over-represented” in desirable occupations, institutions, and income brackets, while other groups are “under-represented.

"From all the indignation and outrage about this expressed on the left, you might think that it was impossible that different groups are simply better at different things."

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: His July 5, 2013 column, "The Left’s Central Delusion," posted at National Review Online.

Frown NOTE: There will likely be little if any growling for the rest of August.

August 17, 2014

Wheel Chair Fraud Rolls On?

Today's Washington Post reports on page A1 that "(s)cammers discover that power wheelchair are perfect vehicle for fraud." The story was reported by David Fahrenthold from Los Angeles.

The subtitle of the online story was even clearer: "The government has paid billions to buy power wheelchairs. It has no idea how many of the claims are bogus." Although the story continues on for two complete pages, the essence of the story seems to be:

"The wheelchair scam was designed to exploit blind spots in Medicare, which often pays insurance claims without checking them first. Criminals disguised themselves as medical-supply companies. They ginned up bogus bills, saying they’d provided expensive wheelchairs to Medicare patients — who, in reality, didn’t need wheelchairs at all. Then the scammers asked Medicare to pay them back, so they could pocket the huge markup that the government paid on each chair.

"A lot of the time, Medicare was fooled. The government paid.

"Since 1999, Medicare has spent $8.2 billion to procure power wheelchairs and “scooters” for 2.7 million people. Today, the government cannot even guess at how much of that money was paid out to scammers.

"Now, the golden age of the wheelchair scam is probably over.

"But, while it lasted, the scam illuminated a critical failure point in the federal bureaucracy: Medicare’s weak defenses against fraud. The government knew how the wheelchair scheme worked in 1998. But it wasn’t until 15 years later that officials finally did enough to significantly curb the practice.

“If you play it right, you can make a lot of money quickly, stealing from Medicare,” said James Quiggle, of the nonprofit Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, recounting the lesson of the past decade and a half."

Fahrenthold reports the scam "first appeared in the mid-1990s in Miami — a city whose mix of elderly people and professional scammers has always made it the DARPA of Medicare fraud, where bad ideas begin" although it quickly spread to other cities. The profit margins were also noteworthy. According to Fahrenthold:

"Let me put it to you this way: An $840 power wheelchair, Medicare pays close to $5,000 for. So there’s a huge profit margin there. Huge,” said one California man who participated in a recent fraud scheme involving wheelchairs."

A graphic of the scam shows "who gained and lost" in a typical transaction. While the patient gained a wheelchair, there was $200 - $900 to the recruiter (aka "capper"), $400 - $1,000 to the doctor. $3,600 to the medical supplier, but Medicare was out $5,000 for each wheelchair.

Here are a few of the more information-rich paragraphs in Mr. Fahrenthold's report:

  • "Medicare used to set its payments for most power wheelchairs based on manufacturers’ suggested retail prices. It did not lower those prices significantly for years, even when it was obvious that wholesale prices were far, far lower. So for scammers, each wheelchair brought a hefty profit."
  • "As early as 1998, Medicare had recognized the existence of the wheelchair scam with a national “fraud alert.” But, to front-line fraud investigators, it was obvious that the crooks were still getting their claims paid."
  • "In 2004, for instance, Medicare started to require that any doctor who prescribed a power wheelchair actually had to see the patient, in person. For the scammers, that was a new obstacle. But not a big one. They just had their corrupt doctors see patients in person.

"Then, in 2007, the government began a legal crackdown. It began a “strike force” of prosecutors, who targeted equipment fraud in problem cities."

Federal efforts have slowed the scam, according to Fahrenthold. Total spending, which reached $964 million in 2003, "fell to $190 million last year," adding:

"Finally, last year the feds went after the Scooter Store.

"That company had become famous for its commercials telling seniors: “Your power chair will be paid in full.” In 2007, the store had already been fined for fraudulent practices, which included billing Medicare for power wheelchairs that patients did not want or need.

"Last year, as part of a new investigation, federal agents with a search warrant raided the Scooter Store headquarters in New Braunfels, Texas. No new criminal charges have been brought. But Medicare was still concerned enough to cut off funding to the Scooter Store.

"It was a death sentence. The business, heavily dependent on federal payments, shut down last fall."

Finally, Fahrenthold's report included the following chart shows how the number of beneficiaries and dollars paid has changed from 1999 to 2013:

Unlike so many news reports about government waste, fraud and abuse, Mr. Fahrenthold's report actually addresses why this scam went on for so long. He writes:

"No one knows how much of that money was actually lost to fraud, and how much of it was caused by innocent errors.

"The power-wheelchair scam provided a painful and expensive example of why Medicare fraud works so often. The fault lay partly with Congress, which designed this system to be fast and generous. And it lay partly with Medicare bureaucrats — who were slow to recognize the threat and use the powers they had to stop it. As a result, scammers took advantage of a system that was overwhelmed by its own claims and lacked the manpower and money to check most of those claims before it paid." (emphasis added)

Kudos to David Fahrenthold for an outstanding report, and kudos to the Washington Post for devoting the resources that were obviously necessary to complete the report.

Check out the pictures in the Post story, too.. The ones in the online version are so much better than those in the print edition. They're sure to reinforce just how ridiculous the scam really was. Fahrentold also provides a lot of the outrageous testimony from the scammers trial.

Taxpayers reading Growls who are upset that Congress seems to approve so many programs that are susceptible to waste, fraud and abuse are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

August 16, 2014

If You Didn't Attend the Global Warming Skeptics Conference

The libertarian-leaning Heartland Institute, which, according to the Economist magazine, is "the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change. held the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC9) conference in July at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas.

If you weren't one of the "650 scientists, economists, policy experts and guests" who attended the three-day conference, Norm Rogers, a volunteer Senior Policy Advisor at Heartland provides a summary of the conference at American Thinker, which has published many of his articles about global warming and green energy. Rogers also blogs at Climate Views.com.

Here is a small excerpt from Rogers' summary article in which he describe two of the more prominent skeptics -- Ron Arnold and Anthony Watts:

"Ron Arnold has a long history as an opponent of environmental extremism and wealthy leftism. His talk on dark money describes how foundations manipulate public opinion. He stitches his research together with psychological theories to explain the motivation of wealthy elites who support extremist environmental movements. The video is here.

"Anthony Watts is a meteorologist. He runs an important website on climate, Watts Up With That. Watts undertook, with help from a cadre of volunteers, the large task of reviewing the siting of weather stations in the U.S. He discovered that many were sited near parking lots, air conditioners and other structures or heat sources that would bias the temperature. After selecting the 10% of stations that are well sited and that meet other criteria, Watts computed that the U.S. rise in average temperature from 1979 to 2009 was probably overstated by 100%. The video is here."

Videos (and PowerPoint presentations, when available) from every presenter are available here so that you can still gain an understanding of why global warming skeptics are indeed skeptical about global warming science. In fact, you can access presentations from prior ICCC's there.

Kudos to the Heartland Institute for their continued global warming skepticism. Their interests are not limited to global warming skepticism, however.

August 15, 2014

Budget Shortfall, but Governor Pushes Health Entitlements

Kathryn Watson of Watchdog.org's Virginia Bureau reported today the "Virginia budget could be $2.4B short as governor pushes health insurance expansion."

Here is how Ms. Watson begins her report:

"Virginia’s bleak financial outlook just got gloomier.

"Gov. Terry McAuliffe told members of the joint House and Senate money committees on Friday that Virginia is projected to rake in $2.4 billion less than it’s budgeted to spend during a three-year period. That’s almost a billion more than the shortfall state officials had projected earlier this year.

"And that means there will be major budget cuts — cuts the Democratic governor said he’ll announce by the end of the year. The state also will dip into its reserves to close the money gap.

"McAuliffe said Virginia needs to back off on its dependence on Washington, D.C., blaming defense cuts to Virginia’s military-heavy Hampton Roads area for much of the downturn.

"Even as he emphasized that cuts need to be made, however, he also made another thing clear — he’s going to find a way to expand health care options for Virginia’s poor, and he’s ready to use the power of his executive office to do so."

According to Watson, Governor McAuliffe (D) expects a plan on his desk by September 1 of how "to expand health care for low-income individuals." However, she writes:

"Republicans thwarted attempts by McAuliffe and other Democrats’ attempts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act this spring and summer. With a long-time blue seat in the Senate likely to turn red in a special election next week, chances look slim for him to win the battle legislatively."

The theme in last week's eNews, the biweekly newsletter of the Virginia Municipal League (VML), one of Arlington County's two major lobbying arms in Richmond, was similar. They wrote in part:

"The news, however, is even worse. McAuliffe cited the impact of federal budget and military defense cuts that have hit hard in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. The governor told the Advisory Council that the “economy of the past, where we could simply take the economic benefits of federal government activities in our state, is over. We need to discard this entitlement mentality and build an entrepreneurial, innovative and dynamic economy.”

"The state’s Joint Advisory Board of Economists met in June to consider the economic outlooks prepared by the Virginia Department of Taxation. The economists reportedly adopted a pessimistic forecast of low economic growth and revenues for the state, meaning fewer receipts from income and sales taxes.

"In talking about the revenue collapse in May and June, McAuliffe said this “marks the first time that revenues have declined in the Commonwealth outside of a national recession.”

Although the outlook for state revenues has turned gloomy, VML told their clients the bottom line is:

"The bottom line for local governments is that downward revisions to the state revenue forecast will likely have negative budget impacts in this fiscal year. And, as the state struggles to develop a new economic model that depends less on federal spending, localities will have to diligently monitor local revenue collections and state efforts to curtail local taxing authority in 2015."

Meanwhile, an item in the online Arlington Sun Gazette this morning reports (HT Suzanne Sundborg) that "(c)ountywide during the second period, the office-vacancy rate was 20.4 percent, up from 16.4 percent. In Northern Virginia as a whole, it rose from 14.9 percent to 16 percent."

Growls' bottom line from the three data points is that unless the Arlington County Board jumps onto the fiscal bandwagon of its newest member, and starts to set serious and sustainable budget priorities, Arlington County taxpayers should prepare for a another spike in their real estate tax bills.

Arlington County taxpayers who think their local tax burden is already too steep are urged to strongly express their views to the Arlington County Board. You can e-mail the County Board by clicking-on the following link, or call them:

  • Call the Board office at (703) 228-3130

To e-mail Governor Terry McAuliffe, click here.

And tell them ACTA sent you!

August 14, 2014

A Most Inexplicable Political Paradox

In the Washington Examiner today, investigative reporter Luke Rosiak tackles the question of why "Americans revile Congress -- but keep re-electing incumbents over and over," explaining:

"It’s the most inexplicable paradox in politics: Americans revile Congress and its inhabitants, yet are voting the same individuals into office far longer than at any time in the nation’s history.

"In 2012, 147 sitting lawmakers had been in office for two decades, while 53 had served for three decades. It didn’t used to be that way.

"Exactly a century prior, only 26 members had been in office for two decades, and only four had served for three decades, according to a Washington Examiner analysis of congressional elections dating back to the nation’s founding."

Rosiak provides some numbers to show how things have changed in over 130 years: "In 1882, most congressmen had been in office six years or less, and only 10 percent had served for 12 years. Now, most have served for a decade or more, and 10 percent have served for more than a quarter-century."

He also provides two interesting profiles, which document the rise of the career lawmaker:

  • First, he charts how some senators "rarely go home." but others "do it constantly." For example, "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) rarely makes time to travel back to Nevada and listen to the voters who sent him to Washington . . . Reid's office budget showed only 11 trips in three years, far fewer than any other senator." At the other extreme, there's Senator (D-Delaware), who perhaps for geographical reasons -- "the rail lines running from Union Station, next to the Capitol -- to his state of Delaware make it physically possible" -- "manages to do what Reid cannot, balancing home-state responsibilities with a powerful national position." According to Rosiak, "Travel records show 145 trips back to Delaware in the three-year period."
  • Second, Rosiak shows that "Senators' trips home decline with time in office," thus "boosting claims of term limits advocates." According to Mr. Rosiak:

"Long-serving senators are more out-of-touch with constituents than recently elected lawmakers who return home more often to meet with constituents, according to a Washington Examiner analysis of congressional travel records.

"The analysis appears to confirm what has long been claimed by populists and political cynics: Senators who have served multiple six-year terms tend to “go native,” becoming more focused on the priorities of special-interest groups in Washington than with the worries and concerns of the "folks back home."

"High re-election rates also mean many citizens are served by lawmakers who are well past retirement age yet occupy posts that are extraordinarily physically demanding for those who intend to make every vote and travel home every weekend."

Rosiak concludes his informative analysis saying:

"In the end, like so many things, it may come down to money — in this case the rising cost of campaigning that is virtually always a benefit to incumbents, who run for local office using money raised from national interests, often the industries they regulate via their committee posts.

"Political activity by industries and lobbying have risen as the government has grown and the stakes have become higher, which also makes it harder for citizen legislators to return to the towns they came from and resume life as a doctor, store operator or the like, as they may have in earlier times.

"Instead, members can ride out their own seats as long as they can and then stay in Washington and collect money for lobbying their former colleagues.

“I think there is some truth to the idea of government and ‘government relations’ being more of a profession than it used to be, as the government has grown,” Kondik said."

Luke Rosiak talked about the Washington Examiner series on incumbency this morning on C-SPAN's Washington Journal. The video lasts just over 41 minutes. Click here to watch.

Term limits is just one of a number of proposals made by Mark Levin in his book, The Liberty Amendments. To learn more, listen to this 16-minute discussion between Mark Levin and Glenn Reynolds. Visit the Convention of the States website for more information.

August 13, 2014

Homeland Security IG's Audit of Immigration Detainees

Longtime readers of Growls know of our advocacy for a strong, independent, and fully-staffed internal audit or inspector general function for Arlington County government. The Homeland Security audit discussed below explains why only one Arlington County Board member openly advocates for a strong and independent audit/IG function.

Stephen Dinan reports in today's Washington Times on a recent audit by the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General (IG). According to Mr. Dinan:

"The administration violated the law when it released thousands of illegal immigrants last February, more than 600 of whom had criminal records, according to an internal audit released Tuesday that blamed the problem on poor planning and bad leadership from Washington.

"Compounding matters, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) gave bad information to Congress about the releases, initially blaming the looming budget sequester rather than the agency’s own budget pressures, the Homeland Security inspector general concluded."

The 48-page IG report is here. A "stoplight" of the report is here.

Dinan continues by writng:

"The new report does exonerate top Homeland Security officials of accusations they had pressured ICE to release the immigrants to create maximum pain from the sequesters as a political tool to end them.

"Instead, investigators said the problems lay at the senior levels of ICE itself, finding that top officials botched planning, didn’t inform their own superiors of the problems and didn’t even know the law required them to hold 34,000 immigrants a day until they were reminded of it by congressional staffers."

He explains the response of DHS/ICE management this way:

"In a response Wednesday, ICE officials said they felt they had no choice at the time both because they were already running over capacity for detention and because they were afraid of how the budget sequesters might affect them.

“Throughout this process, ICE took careful steps to ensure public safety by focusing efforts to reduce the detained population on non-criminal, non-mandatory detention cases and cases involving individuals who posed no serious risk to community safety,” the agency said in a statement."

Homeland Security's IG explains why this audit matters:

"In February and March 2013, media sources reported ICE released hundreds of immigration detainees, including detainees with criminal convictions. The publicized releases occurred the weekend before sequestration went into effect on March 1, 2013, generating speculation that the releases were improperly motivated. Senators Tom A. Coburn, M.D. and John S. McCain requested we review: the circumstances of and reasons for the release of the detainees; the selection criteria and process used; whether ICE accurately applied its selection criteria and processes; and whether ICE received guidance guidance or directives from the Executive Office of the President."

Following is an excerpt from the report's executive summary"

"We determined that the following factors influenced ICE’s decision to release 2,226 immigration detainees between February 9 and March 1, 2013:

  • The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act (P.L. 113‐6) requires ICE to maintain an average daily population of 34,000 detainees and expects ICE to fund detention at this level. Congressional appropriations cover approximately 31,300 of those beds. ICE secures the remaining funding from fluctuating revenue sources or by transferring funding from other programs. This funding structure leaves ICE with inadequate resources when there is an increase in detainees.
  • From fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012, total apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley increased from approximately 59,000 to 98,000, or 66 percent. Accordingly, ICE started fiscal year 2013 with an average daily population of 35,610 in its immigration detention facilities.

During fiscal year 2013, ICE faced reductions as a result of being funded through a continuing resolution based on prior years’ funding and the impending sequestration budget cuts. In addition, funding typically used to cover the shortfall—breached immigration bonds and user fees—collected in fiscal year 2013 were lower than ICE’s projection. However, ICE did not develop contingency plans to address the budget shortfall.

  • When ICE’s budgetary shortfall became apparent in January 2013, ICE leadership assumed it would be able to manage the shortfall by reducing the number of detained aliens. ICE’s Chief Financial Officer decided to cover part of the shortfall through a sharp and immediate reduction in detention bed space.
  • Only after House appropriations staff informed ICE’s Chief Financial Officer on January 31, 2013, that maintaining 34,000 average daily population is a statutory requirement did ICE executive leadership realize ICE would need to obtain additional funding to cover the detention budget shortfall.
  • Of the 2,226 budgetary releases reported to Congress, ICE released approximately 1,450 immigration detainees over the weekend of February 23, 2013.

"The execution of the releases was problematic as well. Insufficient ICE executive leadership planning and limited engagement with its Enforcement and Removal Operations field offices contributed to the timing and number of alien releases. Prior to the detainee releases, ICE executive leadership did not communicate effectively with Enforcement and Removal Operations, and did not inform Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership or the Executive Office of the President about the budget shortfall. In addition, ICE did not notify DHS’ Secretary about plans to release aliens as a remedy for the budget shortfall.

"Between February 9 and March 1, 2013, Enforcement and Removal Operations field offices released some aliens with criminal convictions whose detention was statutorily required. However, field offices did not release aliens they considered a danger to the community. Given the short timeframe of the releases and the mandate from ICE headquarters to do so, Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Office Directors applied selection criteria and processes appropriately. Enforcement and Removal Operations officers reviewed their own detained alien dockets to determine the best candidates for release. Enforcement and Removal Operations supervisory field officers reviewed each release recommendation."

Although we are normally more concerned with the fiscal aspects of government policy, it's worth pointing out that government also wastes taxpayer's money whenever it carries out government policy in an ineffective or uneconomical manner.

Is it a surprise, then, why a majority of the Arlington County Board manages to put off having a strong internal audit function?

Taxpayers reading Growls who are concerned with immigration policy and how the administration is carrying out its Congressionally-mandated responsibilities on immigration are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And tell them ACTA sent you!

August 12, 2014

Both 48th District Candidates Support Streetcar Referendum

In a story today at the online Arlington Sun Gazette, Scott McCaffrey reports that both "candidates affirm they will introduce streetcar-referendum legislation if elected."

Here is an excerpt from Mr. McCaffrey's reporting:

"Its chances for getting through Richmond may be slim at best, but the two candidates for the 48th District House of Delegates special election have affirmed their promises to introduce legislation allowing Arlington residents to vote on the controversial Columbia Pike streetcar.

"In fact, in an Aug. 11 Arlington forum prior to the Aug. 19 special election, both Democrat Richard “Rip” Sullivan Jr. and Republican David Foster said a referendum measure would be the first piece of legislation they would introduce, if elected.

"The comments came at the second, and final, debate between Sullivan and Foster, held at George Mason University’s Arlington campus.

"The pro-streetcar faction on the County Board contends it does not have the authority to hold an advisory referendum on the streetcar or any other topic, although some other Virginia jurisdictions do have that power. Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) has asked state Attorney General Mark Herring (D) for an advisory opinion on the matter.

"If there is such a prohibition, it could be lifted by the legislature. While the General Assembly would not necessarily require the County Board to authorize a referendum, it could give Arlington leaders the authority to do so.

McCaffrey notes that while "(a) number of prominent Arlington political leaders have expressed support for the concept of a referendum." their support "does not necessarily translate into opposition to the $350 million Columbia Pike streetcar project."

Meanwhile, the Office of Voter Registration provides the following significant information:

  • The recent resignation of Del. Bob Brink (48th) means a Special Election will be held on Tuesday, August 19  for residents of that House of Delegates district only. The voter registration deadline is Aug. 12.
  • The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 4 election is Tues. Oct. 14.
  • Other information, including sample ballots, information about absentee voting, and where to vote.

As most readers of Growls know, turnout for special elections in Arlington County tends to be low, if not very low. So your vote carries more weight than in a general election. Here are the websites for the two candidates in the August 19 special election:

Arlington County taxpayers who oppose the Columbia Pike streetcar project are urged to strongly express their views to the Arlington County Board. You can e-mail them by clicking-on the link, or call them:

  • Call the Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you!

August 11, 2014

The President and His Economic Indicators

In a post last week at the Wall Street Journal's blog, Real Time Economics, Josh Zumbrun points out:

"In a recent interview with the Economist, President Barack Obama made the following statement: “I think you’d have to say that we’ve managed the economy pretty well and business has done okay.” He said: “Since I have come into office, there’s almost no economic metric by which you couldn’t say that the U.S. economy is better and that corporate bottom lines are better. None.”

"The president made similar remarks in an interview last month with CNBC’s Steve Liesman:  “If you think about where we were, Steve, when I came into office and where we are now, it’s pretty hard to find an economic measure where we’re not significantly better off.”

Zubrun agrees with the president on the issue of stock prices, but says "if the performance of stock markets since the day the president took office are a referendum on his economic policies, then stocks have remained enthusiastic. Some might argue, however, that stocks are more driven by Federal Reserve interest rate policy, and may be disconnected from the health of the real economy."

He also agrees that such economic indicators as gross domestic product (GDP), total number of jobs and industrial production have increased. Mr. Zubrun includes charts for these and most of the other economic indicators he mentions.

But how about per capita income? According to Mr. Zubrun:

"Yet it’s also not that hard to find indicators that do not show the U.S. significantly better off. In the CNBC interview, Mr. Liesman rattled one off the top of his head to Mr. Obama.

“Median family incomes, that’s one that is not doing better,” he said.

"Indeed, adjusted for inflation, incomes declined around the turn of the century and never quite regained their previous peak under President George W. Bush. Since Mr. Obama took office, the median income rate has continued to decline, according to Census Bureau data through 2012. The president agreed with Mr. Liesman that incomes have fallen and touted proposals to raise the minimum wage and invest in American infrastructure as policies that could reverse the decline."

The following chart depicts that last paragraph:

Mr. Zubrun then discusses, and shows in charts, such other indicators as labor force participation, food stamps, and job growth.

But let's return to what has happened to per capita income, At Breitbart's Big Government today, Wynton Hall reports:

"U.S. jobs pay an average 23% less today than they did before the 2008 recession, according to a new report released on Monday by the United States Conference of Mayors.

"In total, the report found $93 billion in lost wages.

"Jobs lost during the recession paid an average $61,637. As of 2014, jobs in the same sectors paid an average of $47,171 annually."

You can find the U.S. Conference of Mayors homepage here. A press release about the report is here. Two pages of "key findings" from the report are here. And the 68-page page report is here.

At the American Enterprise Institute's inestimable blog, AEIdeas, James Pethokoukis excerpted portions of the U.S. Conference of Mayors report, yesterday, that perhaps explains what has happened to jobs more clearly. Here's the short, verbal explaination:

" . . . Extensive job losses in high-wage manufacturing ($63K) and construction ($58K) sectors were replaced by jobs in the lower wage sectors of hospitality ($21K), health care ($47K), and administrative support ($37K)."

And here's that explanation in chart form:

For the record, the Wall Street Journal's Josh Zubrun explains the difficulty in comparing the performance of presidents, writing:

"For more on the challenges of evaluating presidents, see two earlier posts on presidential records on poverty and job creation.

"As noted in an earlier post studying presidents by their records on poverty, the poverty rate has climbed since Mr. Obama took office. Through 2012, the most recent year available, the number of people in poverty had risen by 2.9 million."

Perhaps it's no wonder the president emphasizes the economic indicators are up under his watch. After all, at least five polls -- CBS News, Bloomberg National, CNN/ORC, Kaiser, and Quinnipiac -- conducted since January 2014 show either the economy, unemployment, or jobs as the top concern of Americans, according to a search at PollingReport.com.

Taxpayers reading Growls who are concerned the politicians in Washington, D.C. don't seem to understand that the top priorities of working Americans are the economy and jobs are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column).And how do you improve the economy and create jobs? Let's begin by reforming individual and corporate income taxes, limiting the size of government, and simplifying regulations so that even small business find it easy to comply. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Tell them they need to listen to the voters rather than to the special interests. And tell them that ACTA sent you.

August 10, 2014

Arlington Lags Loudoun County and State in Income Growth

In an Arlington Connection story posted Thursday, August 7, Michael Lee Pope reports that "income growth in Fairfax and Alexandria lags behind state and national averages," but that "Loudoun is the one bright spot in the region."

Pope begins his reporting this way:

"Paycheck growth in Fairfax County and the city of Alexandria are lagging behind the state and the nation, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. A look at per capita personal income from the last five years shows Northern Virginia struggling to keep up as everybody else recovers from the recession.

"Fairfax County had the lowest rate of growth, only 2 percent. Alexandria isn't much better, showing a 3 percent growth in per capita personal income. Arlington has the highest per capita personal income, although its growth is just under the state and national average. The only bright spot in Northern Virginia is Loudoun County, which has seen a 15 percent rate of growth from 2008 to 2012 (the most recent year available). For the most part, Northern Virginia is stuck. (emphasis added)

""The region has stopped growing," said Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. "High wage jobs and most new jobs are paying below the average for all jobs."

Below is a chart, which Polpe included that shows this in chart form:

Pope then probes the reasons for the slower and/or little growth in the rest of Northern Virginia. Such reasons as families getting poorer, citing the Russell Sage Foundation study that we cited two weeks ago here, the region's dependence on the federal government, and the so-called Great Recession. Another cause, according to Pope, are demographic changes.

He then notes the one "bright spot" in Northern Virginia is Loudoun County, saying it is:

" . . . where per capita person income increased from $52,000 in 2008 to $60,000 in 2012. Researchers who study the shifting demographic patterns of Northern Virginia say part of the explanation for this is the different kind of people who are now moving to Loudoun County, which is growing at the fastest rate in Northern Virginia. The county's population has doubled in the last 15 years, and so has the county's demographic profile."

Arlington has the highest personal income for each of the Northern Virginia jurisdiction. Pope posts a table with the numbers for the years 2008 through 2012 as well as the changes from 2008 t0 2012 for each jurisdiction. Here are the 2012 personal income numbers for each:

  • Loudoun -- $59,683
  • Virginia -- $48,377
  • United States -- $43,735
  • Prince William County -- $47,309
  • Arlington County -- $83,242
  • Alexandria -- $80,952
  • Fairfax County -- $71,607

We wonder if all of the Arlington County Board masterminds are aware the personal incomes of county residents is growing so slowly. In a few days, we'll growl about the growth in county spending compared to the growth in personal income, and may ask county taxpayers to contact County Board members.

August 09, 2014

Critiquing the Flat and FairTax Systems

On Thursday, we growled that taxpayers should tell their members of Congress to boot the current tax system. We referenced a poll by our friends at the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) taken during their celebration of economist Milton Friedman. According to poll results, over 95% of those voting wanted either the FairTax or a flat tax, virtually the same percentage as in the prior year's poll.

The NTU poll results were reported by Dan Barrett in a post at NTU's Government Bytes blog, which included a brief description of each of five tax systems.

Now comes an interesting critique of the FairTax from Dan Mitchell, an expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute. In an article posted today at Townhall.com, he provides "A Fair Critique of the FairTax." Following is a somewhat long introduction from Mitchell's article:

"I’m a long-time proponent of the flat tax for three simple reasons.

  1. It replaces the discriminatory “progressive” tax with a single tax rate at the lowest possible level, Thus reducing the tax penalty on productive behavior.
  2. It gets rid of all forms of double taxation, such as thedeath tax and capital gains tax, meaning economic activity is never taxed more than one time.
  3. Other than a family-based allowance, it gets rid of all loopholes, deductions, credits, exemptions, exclusions, and preferences, meaning economic activity is taxed equally.

"Some people say that these are also three reasons to favor a national sales tax.

"My response is that they’re correct. In simple terms, a national sales tax (such as the Fair Tax) is like a flat tax but with a different collection point.

"If you want more details, I often explain the two plans are different sides of the same coin. The only difference is that the flat tax takes of slice of your income as you earn it and the sales tax takes a slice of your income as you spend it. But neither plan has any double taxation of income that is saved and invested. And neither plan has loopholes to lure people into making economically irrational decisions.

"Instead of class warfare and/or social engineering, both plans are designed toraise money is the least-damaging fashion possible.

"So even though I’m mostly known for being an advocate of the flat tax, I have no objection to speaking in favor of a national sales tax, testifying in favor of a national sales tax, or debating in favor of a national sales tax."

Mitchell wrote the article for another reason, however. With the above background, he says, "you can understand why it caught my attention that an economics professor at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) wrote a column for Forbes with the provocative title of “I Will Support The Fair Tax When Its Backers Tell The Truth”.

Readers can read Mitchell's article to study the back and forth between Professor Dorfman and Dan Mitchell to fully understand the professor's concerns and Mitchell's responses. There is also a 5:48 minute video, narrated by Mitchell, on the flat and FairTax from the Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

Mitchell adds a postscript saying, "what I really want is a very small federal government, which presumably could be financed without any broad-based tax." Until that day arrives, I believe we must fight for a flat tax, which I believe is far simpler, both to understand and to implement.

The Center for Freedom & Prosperity has a wealth information on the flat tax. Search the CF&P website.

Taxpayers reading Growls who prefer replacing our current convoluted and unfair 75,000 page behemoth of a tax system, and prefer instead a simpler flat tax or the FairTax, are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Tell them they need to listen to the voters rather than to the special interests. And tell them that ACTA sent you.

August 08, 2014

A Clunker of a Government Program

Citing a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, August 6, 2014, editorialized (behind their paywall), "The annals of failed government programs always yield new surprises, and the latest is one for the ages. The White House can't even pay people to buy new cars without harming car makers."

Here's how the Journal's editorial begins their explanation:

"In a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper this month, economists at Texas A&M return to Cash for Clunkers, the 2009 stimulus fillip that dispensed vouchers worth as much as $4,500 if people turned in their old cars for destruction and bought a new set of wheels. Mark Hoekstra, Steven Puller and Jeremy West report their "striking" finding that the $3 billion program's two-month run subtracted between $2.6 billion and $4 billion from the auto industry.

"The irony is that the goals were to help Detroit through the recession by subsidizing sales and to please the green lobby by putting more fuel-efficient cars on the road. By pulling forward purchases that consumers would make later anyway, the Obama Administration also hoped to add to GDP. Christina Romer, then chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, called Cash for Clunkers "very nearly the best possible countercyclical fiscal policy in an economy suffering from temporarily low aggregate demand."

"The A&M economists had the elegant idea of comparing the buying behavior of Texas drivers who owned cars that barely qualified for cash (those that got 18 miles per gallon of gas or less) and those that barely did not (19 mph). Using state DMV sales records, this counterfactual allowed them to isolate the effects of the Cash for Clunkers incentives and show what would have happened without the program."

The Journal concludes by writing:

"The basic economic illogic of Cash for Clunkers is that you can't create wealth by destroying serviceable assets and then force-feeding consumer spending on replacements. But the saving grace was supposed to be that at least the auto makers benefited from a government-sponsored firesale on their products. Now that illusion has collapsed too. If Cash for Clunkers was "the best possible" stimulus, maybe that helps explain why the economy is still limping along six years later."

Meanwhile at the Washington Post's Wonkblog, Brad Plummer wrote on October 31, 2013:

"When the Obama administration first proposed its "cash for clunkers" plan in 2009, the reaction was generally favorable. Congress would spend $2.85 billion to encourage drivers to swap their old gas-guzzlers for newer, more fuel-efficient cars.

"The program had something for everyone: It would lend a hand to the ailing U.S. auto industry. It would tamp down on oil consumption. And, once launched, the program proved so popular with consumers that it burned through $1 billion in its first five days. Sure, a few critics argued that the program wouldn't be very cost-effective, but no one was really listening.

"But, as it turns out, the critics were on to something. A new analysis from the Brookings Institution's Ted Gayer and Emily Parker found that the program was fairly inefficient as economic stimulus and mostly pulled forward auto sales that would have happened anyway. It also cut greenhouse-gas emissions a bit — the equivalent of taking up to 5 million cars off the road for a year — but at a steep cost."

Fox News' Auto Tech column weighed in on the Brookings study on November 3, 2013, writing:

"In fact, the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) known as Cash for Clunkers, did little to help the environment and was “far more expensive per job created than alternative fiscal stimulus programs,” according to new research led by Ted Gayer and Emily Parker of Brookings.

"Sold as an economic stimulus and an environmental salve, the program made early progress in jump-starting the ailing auto industry.

"Initial data seemed to indicate that the program, which offered $3,500 to $4,500 for people who trade in their old cars for a new one with higher fuel economy, was popular.

"The plan, which was the brainchild of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, was championed as one that would stimulate the economy, create jobs and reduce emissions. But ultimately, all of those lofty goals fell short of expectations."

Fox News includes a 3-minute clip from one of their ralk radio shows.

Here's a link to the Brookings study, dated October 30, 2013, by Ted Gayer and Emily Parker.

The Economist's Free Exchange Economic log also commented yesterday on the NBER paper by the Texas A&M economists, concluding:

"In addition to altering the timing of purchases the programme also changed what type of cars people bought. Since the size of the subsidy increased with the efficiency of the newly purchased car, consumers had a strong incentive to buy cars thatr guzzled less fuel. While some consumers bought expensive hybrids, most chose to increase efficiency by buying smaller, and thus cheaper, cars. In order to meet the fuel efficiency requirements consumers ending up spending on average $4,600 less per vehicle compared with what they otherwise would have spent without the scheme.

"Since the scheme only induced a change in the timing of purchases, not an increase in the aggregate number, and caused households to substitute towards cheaper cars, the gross impact was to decrease total spending on new vehicles. The authors estimate that the scheme decreased total industry revenues by around $3 billion over the subsequent year. In addition, estimates of the environmental benefits from the scheme suggest that they were small and relatively expensive. In trying to hit two birds with one stone, it seems, the “cash for clunkers” managed to miss both.

"The programme was not the only underwhelming policy response to the recession. Most policymakers dramatically underestimated the size of the ensuing recession and as a result the majority of policy responses were not nearly ambitious enough. It is however a cautionary tale about the dangers of trying to do too much with one policy lever. Tax credits during a downturn and incentives for more fuel efficient cars might be good ideas in their own-right, but mixing them together is a recipe for both policies stalling."

The "Cash for Clunkers" program, as it is most frequently called, had its critics even before the Brookings study by Gayer and Parker. At the FreedomWorks blog, Jon Gabriel criticized the program for 'killing jobs, hurting environment.'

Unfortunately, few if any news outlets have picked-up on the NBER/Texas A&M economists study. A few more members of the 'mainstream' members, including the blogsphere, have covered various studies of "cash for clunkers," e.g., by Hot Air on November 5, 2013 and Breitbart on January 5, 2013.

FWIW, the introduction to the White House's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) report is still available on the Hite House blog, but the link to the full .pdf report no longer functions.

The lesson from this clunker of a government program should fully explain why we growl so often  about gummint programs. If still not clear, see our "thought on prices in economics theory Growl two days ago.

August 07, 2014

Taxpayers Tell Congress to Boot the Current Tax System:

As part of their celebration of economist Milton Friedman's birthday, "NTU Foundation once again opened up the polls to taxpayers across the country to see which fundamental tax system change they support."

Dan Barrett, manager of research at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) explains in a post at NTU's blog, Government Bytes, that "Friedman was a supporter of tax reform in favor of broadening the base and increasing bureaucratic efficiency." They highlighted the fact the "poll has become a tradition for Americans as NTU and Foundation continue to research the different revenue collecting proposals in Congress and state capitols."

Voters could choose from five options. For a description of each system, see the link to Government Bytes in the paragraph above::

  • FairTax
  • Flat Tax
  • National Transaction Tax
  • Value-Added Tax
  • Keep Current System

Of the 170 people who voted in NTUF's poll, 93 voted for the FairTax, 71 for a flat tax, 9 for a transaction tax, 6 for the current system, and 5 for the value-added tax.

We growled about federal tax complexity on May 3, 2014 after NTU released their annual report on the cost of complying with the federal tax code. The first key finding of NTU's report, based on the IRS Taxpayer Advocate's annual report, was the total time burden of tax compliance, which totaled 6.1 billion hours.

Taxpayers reading Growls who are concerned about the burden of taxation, not to mention the 75,000 pages of the income tax code are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Tell them they need to listen to the voters rather than to the special interests. And tell them that ACTA sent you.

August 06, 2014

A Thought on Prices in Economics Theory

". . . The price revolution in economic theory, which began in the early 1960s at Chicago, had made a profound case that prices are the most imperative datum in the economy. Anything that distorts them -- regulation, taxes, money policy -- will cause confusion and entrepreneurial hesitation among economic actors. Nobel Prize after Nobel Prize was awarded to economists arguing that government has to interfere with the economy as little as possible.

"And yet the economics discipline's free-market revolution found it difficult to penetrate the realm of policy . . . ."

~ Brian Domitrovic, page 255, "Econoclasts: The Rebels Who Sparked the Supply-Side Revolution and Restored American Prosperity"

HT Barmes & Noble

August 05, 2014

Work of Federal IGs Stonewalled

Yesterday, we growled about a hire by Arlington County of an internal auditor, and based upon a story in the Arlington Sun Gazette.

When asked for our response to the hiring, your humble scribe said "more information was needed." For example: "What will be her or his title? Who will he or she report to? What will be the grade level?” he asked in a series of questions." In essence, how independent would the new internal auditor be.

We were reminded of the factor of independence after reading an Associated Press story, posted at Breitbart News' Big Government website today. According to the AP story:

"Independent watchdogs from federal agencies decried on Tuesday what they said were Obama administration efforts to delay or stall their investigations."

The AP continues their reporting, saying:

"A letter to Congress from dozens of inspectors general cites specific instances in which watchdogs for the Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency and the Peace Corps said they were denied timely access to documents and other information while doing their investigations. The letter says other inspectors general have faced similar obstacles, and that congressional action may be needed to ensure cooperation from government agencies.

"Refusing, restricting, or delaying an Inspector General's access to documents leads to incomplete, inaccurate, or significantly delayed findings or recommendations, which in turn may prevent the agency from promptly correcting serious problems and deprive Congress of timely information regarding the agency's performance," the letter states.

"The letter says the Peace Corps did not provide full access to records during an inspector general investigation into the handling of reports of sex assaults against volunteers. A Peace Corps spokeswoman said in a statement that the program respected and valued its inspector general and had recently signed an agreement with the office to provide additional documents, but that it is also committed to protecting the privacy of volunteers who are sexually assaulted."

The AP story, written by Dina Cappiello, concludes with comments by Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has devoted a great deal of effort to federal inspectors general:

"Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was concerned by the letter and the assertion that inspectors general were being stonewalled. He said he would work to correct the access problems through oversight and possibly legislation.

"How are the watchdogs supposed to be able to do their jobs without agency cooperation? Inspectors general exist to improve agencies and get the most bang for every tax dollar," he said in a statement."

Readers of Growls who are concerned with the importance of the federal inspectors general are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

UPDATE (8/6/14): Both ABC News, Politico (blog) and Jamie Dupree of WSB Radio are carrying the story as iss Huffngton Post.

UPDATE (8/6/14): Main Justice, a blog covering "insider news" about DoJ weighs in here. The Washington Post reprints the Associated Press story.

August 04, 2014

Finally, Arlington County Hires Internal Auditor

Arlington County taxpayers may finally be able to see a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel as the county press office confirmed on Friday the county government has hired the first auditor for what is hoped to be an independent and fully-staffed internal audit function.

The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey reports this morning that indeed the county government hired an internal auditor, "but mum's the word about it." McCaffrey begins the story by writing:

"The Arlington County government has hired the person who will be tasked with improving transparency in government finances and operations. But, in an ironic twist, the same county government won’t provide any information on who that person is.

"County officials confirmed to the Sun Gazette on Aug. 1 that they have indeed selected an internal auditor. But county PR personnel – who were alerted to the hire by the newspaper’s inquiry – declined to provide any specifics, saying those would be released in September.

“We will not be sharing further information about the new auditor until he/she starts work,” said county spokesman Mary Curtius, being careful not to reveal even the gender of the incoming employee.

"The appointment – shrouded in the mists of bureaucracy though it may be for now – is a partial victory for the Arlington County Civic Federation and for new County Board member John Vihstadt, who have pushed for more aggressive audit functions for a county government whose spending tops $1 billion a year.

"Vihstadt, who has been briefed on the new hire, gave some details of her background – whoops, there goes the secrecy over gender – and told the Sun Gazette she appeared “very well-qualified” for the role."

Importantly, McCaffrey points out that:

"While there has been no indication of financial wrongdoing in the county government, both the Civic Federation and Vihstadt, who was elected in April, have pushed for an independent inspector general reporting to the County Board.

"They got half a loaf: As part of the fiscal 2015 budget, County Manager Barbara Donnellan was authorized to hire an internal auditor, who will report up the chain to the manager, not elected officials."

Your humble scribe was also quoted in the article. Here is what McCaffrey wrote:

"When comparing Arlington to government entities (state, local, university and health-care) of similar size across the commonwealth, Arlington County Taxpayers Association president Tim Wise estimated in May the local government – factoring in the school system  – should have an audit staff of about 10 people.

"Wise said that before he could determine whether to support the hiring of an auditor, more information was needed.

“What will be her or his title? Who will he or she report to? What will be the grade level?” he asked in a series of questions.

"Donnellan’s budgets during the recession scaled back spending on internal-audit functions. In May, county finance chief Michelle Cowan said hiring an internal auditor would serve as a “starting point” for bringing back a more robust audit function.

"Wise is hoping that is true.

“Perhaps the County Board is waiting to surprise Arlington taxpayers by announcing a consolidated-with-the-schools, fully-staffed internal audit function that will report jointly to the board and to the County Manager,” he said. “Nah, I have to stop dreaming.”

ACTA has growled repeatedly about the need for Arlington County government and its government schools, i.e., Arlington Public Schools, to have an independent and fully-staffed internal audit function. This includes our May 7, 2013 and October 2, 2013 Growls, and more recently the April 5, 2014 and May 10, 2014 Growls.

Kudos to Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt and the Arlington County Civic Federation's Revenues & Expenditures Committee for their continuing support of a strong internal audit function. And kudos to the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey for the clarity in his reporting on this subject.

If Arlington County taxpayers support an independent internal audit function that will shine a strong light on how taxpayer dollars are spent, you are urged to:

  • Call the Board office at (703) 228-3130
And if they ask, tell them ACTA sent you!

August 03, 2014

About Gun-Owning Households

Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (via PatrotPost.us):

A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

In a "Fact Tank" feature at the Pew Research Center, dated July 15, 2014, Rich Morin writes about "(t)he demographics and politics of gun-owning households."

Here's how Morin begins his fact-filled article:

"Americans with young children in their home are just as likely as other adults to have a gun in their household, according to newly released survey data from the Pew Research Center.

"Overall, about a third of all Americans with children under 18 at home have a gun in their household, including  34% of families with children younger than 12. That’s nearly identical to the share of childless adults or those with older children who have a firearm at home.

"The new research also suggests a paradox: While blacks are significantly more likely than whites to be gun homicide victims, blacks are only about half as likely as whites to have a firearm in their home (41% vs. 19%). Hispanics are less likely than blacks to be gun homicide victims and half as likely as whites to have a gun at home (20%).

To examine the demographic and political characteristics of gun-owners and their households, we examined data from the new Pew Research Center American Trends Panel survey of 3,243 adults conducted April 29-May 27, including 1,196 who said they or someone in their household owned a gun, pistol or rifle.

Morin includes the following, helpful chart showing the percentage of households with a guy, by region:

In an op=ed about the Second Amendment, posted January 2, 2013 at PatriotPost.us, the inestimable Walter E. Williams included the following quote by James Madison, one of America's Founding Fathers:

"(The Constitution preserves) the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation … (where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

August 02, 2014

Some Thoughts on World War I

This past Monday saw the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, or the Great War as it was known until World War II. Acording to Wikipedia, the war started on July 28, 1914 when "the Austro-Hungarians fired the first shots in preparation for the invasion of Serbia." A bit more from Wikipedia:

" . . . the immediate trigger for war was the 28 June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. This set off a diplomatic crisis when Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia,[10][11] and international alliances formed over the previous decades were invoked. Within weeks, the major powers were at war and the conflict soon spread around the world."

Yesterday, an editorial in the United Kingdom's Telegraph noted "the start of the First World War was a seminal moment in modern history," adding that "it shaped almost every aspect of the world in which we now live - the first act in a drama that lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991." The Telegraph adds:

"Arguably, no event since the (Protestant) Reformation (starting in 1517, per Wikipedia) has had such an impact on European civilisation. Yet to most people 100 years ago, it came as a total shock, “a peal of thunder from a cloudless sky”, to borrow Sir William Temple’s depiction of an earlier cataclysm."

The Telegraph concludes the editorial, writing:

"By the time it was over four years later, more than 10 million soldiers were dead: two million Germans; a million and a half French; a million British – if we count Australians, Canadians, South Africans, New Zealanders and Indians with the fallen of the United Kingdom; nearly a million Austro-Hungarian subjects; perhaps a million Russians; more than half a million Italians; uncounted Turks. Many millions of civilians also perished in the conflict.

"Why did this catastrophe happen? More words have been expended trying to answer this question than almost any other in history. Sir John Keegan, for many years the defence editor of The Telegraph, called the origins of the war “a mystery”. In his great study of the conflict, he wrote: “Why did a prosperous continent, at the height of its success as a source and agent of global wealth and power and at one of the peaks of its intellectual and cultural achievement, choose to risk all it had won for itself and all it offered to the world in the lottery of a vicious and local internecine conflict?”

With the preceding as context, the Commentary section in yesterday's Washington Times contained a short essay on "the real meaning of World War I" by Thomas DiBacco, professor emeritus at American University. He argues that "muddling the contrast between victory and defeat perpetuates conflict."

Two excerpts from DiBacco's essary are worth considering. First:

" . . . the most significant, and unheralded, lesson of World War I for contemporary Americans is that men and materiel were expendable, but not the infrastructures and real property of the villains. The Germans, for example, never thought they lost the war. Their country had not been invaded by the Allied powers. Indeed, when the war came to an end, their armies were in enemy territories. Their remaining soldiers marched home to their loved ones. Their houses and businesses were all intact. There were no war-crime indictments and trials. Although territory was taken from Germany and redistributed, there was no “unconditional surrender.” Instead of rubble, there was only resentment that could be readily translated into a military revival by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s."

Which brings us to the present. Mr. DiBacco concludes his essay, writing:
"The relevance — and the tragedy — is that, for the most part, the armed villains who oppose the United States today have no home territory to devastate and destroy their will to fight. Terrorists, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, are wedded to no country. The United States simply declaring that the wars have been successful and are or will soon be over in these two nations is as naive as the combatants in World War I designating Verdun as an unqualified victory ground. Instead of being treated as military combatants, too many of the captured terrorists are released or given humane status through the American legal system.

"Worse, nations such as Israel, which has attempted to defeat terrorist incursions into its homeland by returning fire from Gaza, are criticized by the media and characterized as being ruthless and inattentive to civilians.

"In short, the legacy of World War I, with artless military propriety extended to enemies, has come to haunt the United States and the world a century later."

I'll end this Growls by remembering the words of President Ronald Reagan, who once said, "Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong."

August 01, 2014

Federal Spending Per Household Is on the Rise

If you don't think spending, not to mention the federal debt, by the fedrull leviathan is out of control, check the chart below, which is published by the Heritage Foundation.

According to Heritage, "Federal spending per household is projected to grow by 22 percent over the next decade, after adjusting for inflation. Federal spending per household more than doubled from 1962 to 2003. Spending grew by 17 percent just over the past decade."

Click here for other charts from Heritage's Federal Budget in Pictures. Click here for information about Heritage's Federal Budget in Pictures. If you are not familiar with the Heritage Foundation, click here, and learn about the wealth of information available at their website.

As Heritage points out, "If America does not change course, the future will be dramatically worse. Now more than ever, it is crucial that Americans understand what our nation's spending, taxes, and debt mean for them and their families. The Heritage Foundation's Federal Budget in Pictures offers a unique tool to learn about the federal budget in a clear and compelling way."

Readers of Growls who are concerned about the nation's out of control federal spending that are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376