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October 31, 2015

A Thought on the Paris Climate Treaty

"European nations and the European Union have long claimed bragging rights for “leading the world” on “climate stabilization,” by replacing hydrocarbon fuels with renewable energy.Their efforts have done little to persuade poor nations to follow suit – but have sent EU energy prices skyrocketing, cost millions of Euro jobs and made the EU increasingly uncompetitive globally. Now Europe says it will make an additional 40% emissions reduction by 2030, but only if a new Paris agreement is legally binding on all countries. (emphasis in the original)

"However, two months ago, China, India and Russia refused to sign a nonbinding US-sponsored statement calling for greater international cooperation to combat hypothetical warming and climate change. And virtually all developing countries oppose any agreement that calls for binding emission targets or even “obligatory review mechanisms” of their voluntary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"What they do want is a treaty that guarantees at least $100 billion per year for climate change “mitigation, adaptation and compensation,” plus modern energy technologies given to them at no cost. And that appears to be only the opening ante. India environment minister Prakash Javadekar recently said “the bill for climate action for the world is not just $100 billion. It is in trillions of dollars per year.” Developed nations are “historically responsible” for climate change, he argues, and must ensure “justice” for developing countries by fully funding the Green Climate Fund. India alone must receive $2.5 trillion!" (see source for embedded links)

~ Paul Driessen, Senior Policy Adviser, Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT)

Source: his 10/31/15 column, posted at Townhall.com.

For the "official" word on the so-called United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the so-called annual Conference of Parties (COP), see here. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's statement on the Paris Climate Conference is here.

October 30, 2015

If a FIAT is Good Enough for Pope Francis, then Why isn't . . . .?

Today's Washington Times hands out it's "Golden Hammer" award to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security because the "agency leases more cars than it has officers to drive them."

Kellan Howell begins the report by writing:

"If the Homeland Security Department had a color code for waste, fraud and abuse, its management of law enforcement vehicles would be code red after leasing more cars than it had officers to drive them.

"The agency charged with providing security and law enforcement for federal buildings across the country wasted more than $2.5 million in fiscal year 2014 alone by poorly managing its fleet of police and administrative cars.

"In a report, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general’s office blasted the Federal Protective Service for a number of wasteful management decisions, including:

  • Leasing 101 more vehicles than the total number of full-time equivalent law enforcement positions.
  • Leasing 32 administrative vehicles without justifying their function to support agency operations.
  • Leasing SUVs instead of smaller sedans for over 90 percent of its fleet.
  • Adding costly and unjustified law enforcement equipment packages to vehicles.

“This is a regrettable misuse of taxpayer funds due to questionable management decisions,” Inspector General John Roth said. “FPS must put policies and procedures in place to prevent future abuses and get an accurate accounting of its vehicle needs and expenses.”

"The report was released four years after President Obama issued a mandate to federal agencies to eliminate unnecessary or nonessential vehicles in order to preserve taxpayer funds."

According to Howell, the Federal Protective Service (FPS) spent about $10.7 million in FY 2014 to operate its fleet of 1,169 vehicles, an average of over $9,100. He adds:

"Spending watchdogs say the audit illustrates the federal agency’s unwillingness to cut back on frivolous luxuries at the expense of taxpayers while national debt is growing.

"If Pope Francis can ride around in a Fiat, I think government bureaucrats can make do without black SUVs for every jot around the corner,” said Ryan Ellis, tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform.

"For wasting tax dollars on extra cars, large SUVs and beefed-up equipment packages without justification, the Federal Protective Service wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting the most egregious examples of wasteful federal spending."

Fed up with all the waste in the federal government? Then write to one of your Congressional representatives. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

October 29, 2015

Real GDP Growth for Q3 a Meager 1.5%

On Tuesday, we growled about the outlines of a budget/debt deal reached by outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner, President Obama, and other Congressional leaders that surely fails to rein-in the out-of-control federal spending.

Now, in an editorial scheduled for publication in tomorrow's Investor's Business Daily, comes the news that third quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) "was yet another big disappointment." The editorial says, in part:

"The Bureau of Economic Statistics reports that real GDP growth for Q3 came in at a meager 1.5%, below forecast. That means the economy has an annualized growth rate of 2.1% so far this year, well below the 3% economists were expecting.

"It's certainly not the economy Obama described in his State of the Union speech last January. Then, he assured us that "after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999."

"The third-quarter reading is just the latest example of the disappointments that have become a fixture of this administration. Every year starts with big promises about growth, every indicator a sign of prosperity just around the corner. His policies are working, the president insists. But the economy just slogs along.
The best example of Obama's failure can be found by comparing where he thought his policies would take the nation to where we actually ended up.

"As the nearby tables show, the economy is about $1.4 trillion smaller than Obama forecast when he got into office. The debt-to-GDP ratio — now 75% and rising — was supposed to be down to 68.5% by now, and falling.

"Unemployment is only now down to where Obama forecast, but only because so many people have dropped out of the labor force. Without that dramatic loss of workers, the jobless rate would be close to 10%."

Take another minute, and read the entire editorial. And, if you don't have Investor's Business Daily's editorials bookmarked, you're missing some outstanding writing on topics of likely interest. And Michael Ramirez's editorial cartoons are among the very best.

If you haven't communicated recently with your member of Congress, scroll down to Tuesday's Growls, where we've provided contact information should you want to e-mail or call your member of Congress. And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 28, 2015

CAGW Announces their October Porker of the Month

Porker of the Month is a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has named their October Porker of the Month, and he is "Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Acting Commissioner Andy Slavitt . . . for permitting his agency to obscure the reckless use of taxpayer money to prop up the failed Obamacare state CO-OPs."

CAGW justified their selection of Mr. Slavitt this way:

"Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans (CO-OPs) were created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare as a compromise to placate certain Democratic Senators who preferred a government-run option for healthcare reform. Out of the 23 CO-OPs that were created, nine have either closed their doors or will do so by the end of the year, leaving thousands of Americans scrambling for new health insurance.

"The cause of these collapses was clear from the start. The law prevented individuals with healthcare provider experience from constituting a majority on any CO-OP governing board. As new entities, CO-OPs had little to no access to actuarial data or patient histories to determine premiums.  The law also prohibited CO-OPs from engaging in the more lucrative large employer market, forcing them to only pursue smaller individual and group markets.

"Undaunted by these obvious red flags, CMS allocated $2.4 billion in start-up loans for the 23 CO-OPs. Now that nine have failed, taxpayers have lost approximately $983 million or 41 percent of the total amount.  To make matters worse, federal officials admitted on September 28, 2015 that more CO-OPs are soon poised to collapse. A Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General report on July 30, 2015 revealed that 22 of 23 CO-OPs lost money in 2014.

"In a brazen effort to allow failing CO-OPs to masquerade as financially viable, Acting Commissioner Slavitt allowed CMS Center for Consumer information and Insurance Oversight CO-OP Division Director Kelly O’Brien to send a letter on July 9, 2015 informing the CO-OPs that they could “request that surplus notes be applied to … start-up loans. Applying surplus notes to the start-up loans will enable CO-OP borrowers to record those loans as assets in financial filings with regulators.” In other words, the CO-OP loans would now become assets.  This is akin to a homeowner claiming their mortgage loan liability could be counted as an asset. In an October 9, 2015 article in Politico Pro, David Paul, a principal at Alirt Insurance Research, said, “The big game is to have the capitalization of these companies be solvent so that the insurance departments aren’t required or don’t feel compelled to step in. It is kind of dressing up these companies showing more capital than they really should hold.”

"Indeed, these questionable and somewhat unprecedented accounting procedures to move some money around and keep some CO-OPs afloat by making their finances looks better on paper than they really are will not avoid their eventual demise. To date, five CO-Ops, Colorado HealthOP, New Mexico Health Connections, Nevada Health Co-op, Health Republic Insurance of Oregon, and Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative in Wisconsin, have taken advantage of this loophole. Yet even with that “financial assistance,” three out of those five have announced they will shut down.

"CAGW President Tom Schatz said, 'No amount of loopholes or fiscal gimmicks can hide the financial disaster caused by the CO-OPs. The fact that taxpayer money was abused to prop up this scheme further is cause for more outrage.'"

If you're not familiar with Citizens Against Government Waste, CAGW "is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government." Kudos to CAGW for their continued efforts to fight government waste.

October 27, 2015

What 'Cleaning the Barn' Really Means

For some background on the "two-year budget/debt deal" just agreed to by House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama, the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan writes in today's print edition:

"The White House and congressional negotiators reached the outlines of a deal Monday to suspend the debt limit and add more discretionary spending to this year’s budget, as all sides look to clear the decks ahead of House Speaker John A. Boehner’s retirement.

"Both defense and domestic spending will increase in 2016 and 2017, covered by cuts and revenue increases elsewhere over the next decade, according to early details. Lawmakers were briefed on the outlines, and final language was being written Monday night, with the hope of introducing legislation for a House vote Wednesday.

"The deal also paves the way for another debt holiday, allowing President Obama to borrow as much as he needs to keep the government operating into 2017 — meaning he is likely leave office with the total debt nearing $20 trillion.

"The deal would divert money to shore up the Social Security disability system’s trust fund, which had been slated to go bankrupt by next year. In exchange, the deal imposes more checks on disability beneficiaries — what backers were calling the biggest changes since the 1980s."

More recent reporting on the budget/debt deal by Dinan is available here and here.

Additional reporting on the budget/debt deal by the Associated Press includes this, posted at Fox News, which includes:

"The budget pact, in concert with a must-pass increase in the federal borrowing limit, would solve the thorniest issues awaiting Ryan, R-Wis., who is set to be elected speaker on Thursday. It would also take budget showdowns and government shutdown fights off the table until after the 2016 presidential election, a potential boon to Republican candidates who might otherwise face uncomfortable questions about messes in the GOP-led Congress.

"Congress must raise the federal borrowing limit by Nov. 3 or risk a first-ever default, while money to pay for government operations runs out Dec. 11 unless Congress acts. The emerging framework would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies two years of budget relief at $80 billion in exchange for cuts elsewhere in the budget.

"Outlined for rank-and-file Republicans in a closed-door session Monday night, the budget relief would total $50 billion in the first year and $30 billion in the second year."

Here's the NY Times' reporting on the tentative budget deal. Earlier this evening, the Washington Post reported that "House Republicans scramble to maintain support for for budget deal." Meanwhile, the Fiscal Times's reporting includes this:

"Outside conservative groups are also unlikely to happy about the budget package, though right now they seem to be focusing their fire on Boehner. “In Washington cleaning the barn is apparently synonymous with shoveling manure on the American people,” Heritage Action chief executive officer Michael A. Needham said in a statement.

"Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, said, “I’ve got to believe that if you move this deal forward to a vote, that [conservative media personalities] Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Erick Erickson, Rush Limbaugh and a whole lot of others are going to go ballistic, and they’re going to say Ryan was a part of this. This was a cabal once again with the establishment leadership. But it also means that the most divisive issues through next year are off the table for Ryan, and he can try and focus on some other things.”

At the American Thinker today, Rick Moran concludes a blog posting this way:

"I hope Boehner opens a used car dealership in Ohio when he goes home.  I'd love to negotiate a deal with him.

"Is this really the best deal Republicans could get?  I think there is something to the criticism by some conservatives that Boehner gave up too much because he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.  He also wanted to clear the decks of contentious issues for Paul Ryan, although given the temper of the right in the House, anything and everything could become contentious.

"By the time this deal runs out, there will be a new Congress sitting in Washington.  Will it be more conservative?  More liberal?  Democrat?  Republican?  Those who don't think down-ballot races are important should look at this deal and vote accordingly."

Finally, Merrill Matthews, resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), posted an "obituary" for "budget sequester, 2013-2015" at the IPI website:

"Step up and pay your last respects to the budget sequester. It was only with us a few years, but it made a big difference in its short life and untimely death.

"President Barack Obama was its father, and Republicans were its mother. It was conceived in the summer of 2011, in yet another of the many showdowns over the budget and federal debt ceilings.

"The White House suggested the sequester as a way to get an agreement—though it denied that vociferously until Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward confirmed it. The provision was codified in the Budget Control Act that went into effect in August of 2011. Its “delivery” was delayed from January 1, 2012, to March 1, when it saw the light of day.

"Obama, who hasn’t gotten one thing right yet on economic policy, warned the country of the economic devastation that would occur if Congress didn’t kill the sequester. Congress didn’t and the economy took off.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was just under 13,000 at the beginning of March 2012; today it’s above 17,000. Unemployment stood at 8.2 percent that March; today it’s 5.1 percent.

"If the sequester killed the economy, someone forgot to tell investors and employers.

"But its real benefit is that it made real cuts in government spending. Total federal outlays declined from $3.6 trillion in 2011 to $3.5 trillion in 2014. As a result, the annual federal deficit dropped from $1.3 trillion in 2011 to $490 billion in 2014.

"The sequester has been the single most important factor in imposing fiscal restraint in our lifetimes. That’s a success story that the left just could not tolerate. And so Obama recently demanded that both military and domestic spending increase, busting the sequester caps.

"Soon to be Speaker Paul Ryan set the precedent for busting the caps with his two-year budget deal with Senator Patty Murray in December of 2013. The Republican leadership praised it saying that it would get other savings in the out years. No one believed that. The sequester was on life support.

"Now exiting Speaker John Boehner has pulled the plug. Though Boehner is likely falling on his sword in order to save Ryan from doing the same thing, it’s a pathetic finish to a sordid legacy.

"But the truth is that many Republicans like big government spending just as much as Democrats, and they are relieved that the sequester is dead so that they can get back to the business of growing government."

Wondering about the source of "cleaning the barn" in the subject? Stephen Dinan explains it, saying, "The outgoing speaker promised to “clean the barn” of tough issues before leaving, and the talks were a last chance for him to try to win more entitlement spending cuts."

If you haven't written to one of your Congress Critters lately, commenting on the budget/debt deal seems like an ideal opportunity. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

If you don't have IPI bookmarked, and like reading  that includes individual liberty, limited government, and free markets, take a minute to bookmark the Institute for Policy Innovation.

October 26, 2015

More Evidence the Economy is Not Worth Writing Home About

In an article posted yesterday at Daily Caller, Rachel Stoltzfoos reported on "new data from the Social Security Administration (SSA), which shows:

"Fifty-one percent of working Americans make less than $30,000 a year, new data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) shows.

"That’s $2,500 a month before taxes and just over the federal poverty level for a family of five. The new numbers come from the National Wage Index, which SSA updates each year based on reported wages subject to the federal income tax.

"In 2014, half of working Americans reported an income at or below $28,851 (the median wage), and 51 percent reported an income of less than $30,000. Forty percent are making less than $20,000. The federal government considers a family of four living on an income of less than $24,250 to be impoverished."

According to the SSA, "The national average wage index (AWI) is based on compensation (wages, tips, and the like) subject to Federal income taxes, as reported by employers on Forms W-2." The SSA report adds:

"The "raw" average wage, computed as net compensation divided by the number of wage earners, is $7,050,259,213,644.55 divided by 158,186,786, or $44,569.20. Based on data in the table below, about 67.2 percent of wage earners had net compensation less than or equal to the $44,569.20 raw average wage. By definition, 50 percent of wage earners had net compensation less than or equal to the median wage, which is estimated to be $28,851.21 for 2014."

Stoltzfoos included the chart below, which she says, "shows that the difference between the median wage and the average wage continues to widen, signaling a declining middle class. These numbers are not adjusted for inflation:"

Although it's not directly comparable, the per capita income in Arlington County for FY 2014 is $86,300, according to Table K (page 187) in the statistical section of Arlington County's FY 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

The SSA wage index allows users to look at comparable data back to 1990. Looking back just five years -- from 2009 through 2014 -- shows the average wage increased 14.1% while the average median wage increased less than 9.9%. As Stoltzfoox notes, those numbers suggest increasingly stagnating wages. It's also worth noting that over that five-year period, the average median wage just barely kept up with inflation, but the average wage did not.

We urge Growls readers to contact a member of Congress to communicate the need to make policy changes that will get the American economy growing. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

UPDATE (10/28/15): Thanks to the sharp-eyed reader from South Arlington for pointing out the per capita income amount ($86,300) in the paragraph immediately below the above chart, which I've corrected.

October 25, 2015

A Thought on Taxes

"We have a system that increasingly taxes work and subsidizes non-work."

~ Milton Friedman

Source: page 35, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

October 24, 2015

Ordinary Services at Extraordinary Prices -- APS Version

We growled two weeks ago after "(Arlington) School Board members hit the roof in August after planners came in with a projected cost of $100 million for the new (H-B Woodlawn) – far higher than the $80 million first proposed – and sent chastened staff and a community planning group back to the drawing board." The October 8 Growls included the following from the Arlington Sun Gazette story:

"Those efforts are bearing fruit, School Board Vice Chairman Nancy Van Doren said at the Oct. 7 meeting of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

“A great deal of work has been done . . . to bring the project costs down,” Van Doren said, while suggesting more work may need to be done."

We suspected at the time that staff cost-cutting had yet to get really serious. A look at the 2013-14 Annual Cost Data Report prepared by the Virginia Department of Education's Division of Support Services confirms that initial suspicion. The Annual Cost Data Report for the 2013-14 school year shows contracts were awarded in Virginia for two elementary schools -- Arlington Public Schools' Discovery (grades PK-5) March 2014 and Prince William County's Devlin Road (grades K-5) December 2013. But that's where any similarity ends. Let's talk a look at some numbers:

Devlin Road Elementary School: maximum operating capacity - 905; Building Cost -- $16.2 million; Site Cost - $4.1 million; Total Cost - $20.3 million; Total Square Feet - 107,273; Square Feet per Pupil - 119; Total Cost per Square Foot - $189.11; Building Only Cost per Square Foot - $150.89; and, Total Cost per Pupil - $22,415.

Discovery Elementary School: maximum operating capacity - 684; Building Cost -- $28.2 million; Site Cost - $4.1 million; Total Cost - $32.3 million; Total Square Feet - 97,588; Square Feet per Pupil - 143; Total Cost per Square Foot - $331.04; Building Only Cost per Square Foot - $288.97; and, Total Cost per Pupil - $47,231.

When we growled about these cost data numbers on June 6, 2014, we wrote:

"Now that the Arlington Public Schools have hired a director of internal auditing, it seems a review of the capital project cost estimating process could prove to be a great place to start. The potential payback could be a large number, indeed. Without a thorough review of the planning documents, we can't say there is any gold-plating, but the numbers above suggest the need for the adults on the School Board and among the senior bureaucrats to take a hard look at what is being planned. The fact the School Board is now considering a 300-seat addition to the Washington-Lee High School after a new school was recently completed literally boggles the mind. Where is the accountability?"

We again urge the School Board to direct APS' internal auditor to review the capital project cost estimating process. Since the Schools held a ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning for the Discovery Elementary School, we trust the School Board took time to explain the exorbitant cost difference between Discovery and Prince William County's Devlin Road Elementary School although we won't hold our breath.

Wondering about the claim of "ordinary services at extraordinary prices"? Back in the day when ACTA had a booth at the annual county fair, we affixed the claim on the comic books we distributed to fairgoers.

Given the implications for taxpayers, we urge Growls readers to growl to members of the Arlington School Board about constructing ordinary schools at extraordinary prices. Tell School Board members to direct the Superintendent and staff that Chevrolet schools are good, but not at Cadillac prices, especially in a Pabst Blue Ribbon budget environment. Just click-on the link below:

  • Call the School Board office at (703) 228-6015

And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 23, 2015

A Thought on Congress and Taxes

"Congress can raise taxes because it can persuade a sizable fraction of the populace that somebody else will pay."

~ Milton Friedman

Source: page 62, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

October 22, 2015

Federal Tax Collections Set Record; $439 Billion Deficit Remains

CNS News's Terrence Jeffrey reported last Thursday that federal tax collections for FY 2015, which ended September 30, were a record of approximately $3.25 trillion, based upon the latest Monthly Treasury Statement.

According to Jeffrey, "(t)hat equaled approximately $21,833 for every person in the country who had either a full-time or part-time job in September."

He also reported:

"Even as the Treasury was hauling in a record $3,248,723,000,000 in tax revenues in fiscal 2015, the federal government was spending $3,687,622,000,000. So, the federal government ran a deficit of $438,899,000,000 for the fiscal year.

"According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total seasonally adjusted employment in the United States in September (including both full and part-time workers) was 148,800,000. That means that the federal tax haul for fiscal 2015 equaled about $21,832.82 for every person in the United States with a job.

"In 2012, President Barack Obama struck a deal with Republicans in Congress to enact legislation that increased taxes. That included increasing the top income tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, increasing the top tax rate on dividends and capital gains from 15 percent to 20 percent, and phasing out personal exemptions and deductions starting at an annual income level of $250,000."

A video and transcript of Jeffrey being interviewed  by Neil Cavuto on Fox Business News last Friday about U.S. deficits and debt. The video lasts 4:10 minutes.

Growls readers are encouraged to growl at their Congress Critters about the need to rein in federal spending. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

October 21, 2015

Arlington County Board Votes to Kill Artisphere Vanity Project

At their recessed meeting yesterday evening, the Arlington County Board voted unanimously to terminate its lease for the Artisphere. According to the local, online news site, ARLnow.com today:

"A little more than five years after Artisphere opened, the doors are shutting for good on what was once touted to be Arlington’s cultural crown jewel.

"Without any discussion, the County Board unanimously voted to end the county’s lease for the Rosslyn space formerly occupied by Artisphere during its meeting last night. Artisphere, which opened on Oct. 10, 2010, shut is doors in June 2015, following financial problems.

"It will cost the county $447,436.24 in payments to break the lease, which will end on Oct, 31. The lease on the property was originally written with an expiration date in April 2023.

"Negotiations with landlord Monday Properties resulted in about $100,000 in savings on the lease termination, county staff said. Utilities and maintenance for the space cost the county nearly $1 million per year.

"At this time, the county has not calculated the final cost for closing the cultural center, county staff said."

The Board took action pursuant to agenda item #18 (one of several items removed from Saturday's consent agenda). Here's the "fiscal impact" statement from the Manager's report to the Board:

"The aggregate amount of the Pass-Through Payments, Four Hundred Forty-Seven Thousand Four Hundred Thirty-Six and Twenty-Four/100 Dollars ($447,436.24), is available from $1.3 million in one-time funding included in the FY 2016 adopted budget for Arlington Economic Development (101.71910) to cover the closure of the Artisphere facility, including lease-related expenses, during the twelve months beginning on the date of the Lease Termination Notice to the Landlord. Other expenses associated with the closure of the facility are still processing and a final estimate of the total closure costs will not be available until all invoicing is complete and internal accounts are reconciled."

Arlington County entered the original lease with the property owner on November 20, 2008, according to the Manager's report to the Board. Since the final closure costs have yet to be estimated, and since county taxpayers paid for significant improvements to the Artisphere space, and since some of those improvements will remain after the space is vacated, it seems that for the purpose of full transparency, the "final estimate of the total closure costs" should include an accounting of all costs dating back to November 20, 2008 when the County entered into the Original Lease.

Your humble scribe believes the final estimate should also include the costs of any consultant(s), which were hired to advise the county on the feasibility of an arts facility in Rosslyn. In addition, if there were such feasibility studies, the Board should be provided with a comparison of the study recommendation(s) with the actual results.

We previously growled about the Artisphere here and here.

Growls readers. Please take a few minutes, and tell the Arlington County Board that Arlington County taxpayers don't need additional mandates on increases to the household solid waste rate. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 20, 2015

Virginia's DMV May Be Better Than You Thought. Or not!

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) recently assessed the performance of Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) -- report summary here; the full report is here; and the recommendations are here.

The JLARC consists of nine members of the House of Delegates and five members of the Senate with Virginia's Auditor of Public Accounts an ex-officio member. JLARC is a key component of legislative oversight. Nore information about JLARC can be found here.

JLARC staff was directed to look at the cost-effectiveness of DMV services based upon a JLARC resolution. In addition, staff was to look at DMV's role in identity management. For the record, the purpose of DMV is:

"The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is responsible for administering the state’s motor vehicle and tax-related laws. DMV provides a wide array of services to Virginia residents and businesses: driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations and titles are among the most common. DMV has 75 customer service centers (CSCs) located throughout the state. DMV receives no general fund moneys; it is funded through a portion of the revenue it collects. DMV also contracts with other entities that provide services, including 54 DMV Select offices operated by constitutional officers, town governments, and for-profit entities."

Here's a list of the six major findings in the JLARC report -- taken directly from the report summary:

  • Virginia’s DMV spending and staffing are similar to other states; spending has increased moderately"
  • DMV’s efforts to minimize error and fraud appear reasonable
  • DMV IT security concerns need to be addressed
  • Virginians have adequate access to in-person service
  • Use of Internet for DMV transactions is steadily increasing, but many people still choose more costly in-person services
  • Customers at larger CSCs in Northern Virginia face substantial wait times before being served

The report summary includes one or more paragraphs explaining each of the six areas. The report makes five recommendations.

The following graphic, from the summary, is self-explanatory:

The only member of JLARC representing Arlington County voters is Senator Janet Howell (District 32), whose district covers parts of both Arlington and Fairfax counties.

We encourage readers of Growls to learn what their favorite Delegate and Senator in the General Assembly are doing to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and economy of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Legislators representing Arlington County in the Virginia General Assembly include: Senators (Adam Ebbin, Barbara Favola, and Janet Howell) and Delegates (Rip Sullivan, Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, and Rob Krupicka). 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 represents you.

And tell them ACTA sent you!

October 19, 2015

A Thought on Paying a 'Fair Share' of Taxes

"What a "fair share" of taxes means in practice is simply "more." No matter how high the tax rate is on people with a given income, you can always raise the tax rate further by saying that they are still not paying their "fair share."

"Advocates of higher tax rates can get very specific when they want to. A recent article in the New York Times says that raising the tax rate on the top 1% of income earners to 40% would generate "about $157 billion" a year in additional tax revenue for the government.

"This calculation ignores mountains of evidence, going back for generations, showing that raising tax rates does not automatically mean raising tax revenues — and has often actually led to falling tax revenues. A fantasy expressed in numbers is still a fantasy.

"When the state of Maryland raised its tax rate on people with incomes of a million dollars a year or more, the number of such people living in Maryland fell from nearly 8,000 to fewer than 6,000. Although it had been projected that the tax revenue collected from such people in Maryland would rise by $106 million, instead these revenues fell by $257 million."

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: His October 20, 2015 Column, "What Do You Mean 'The Rich' Don't Pay Their 'Fair Share,'?," posted at Investor's Business Daily.

October 18, 2015

Will Arlington County Board Play Monkey See, Monkey Do?

The Arlington County Board voted yesterday to advertise "a November 14, 2015, public hearing to consider the inclusion of year-round yard waste collection into the residential trash and recycling collection program by maintaining the FY 2015 Household Solid Waste Rate of $271.04 through the end of Fy 2016, with yard waste collection beginning on April 1, 2016."

The item was item #38 on the Board's agenda. The Manager's report to the Board (Item 38.A) contains details of  implementing a residential year-round collection program. Item 38.B. involves the code changes. You can watch, or listen to, past meetings here.

The current service, according to the county's webpage on the year-round proposal, is described as follows:

"Arlington County’s current seasonal yard waste collection program is limited to 6 weeks in the spring (March/April) and 10 weeks in the fall (September/October) of each year. Yard waste set out by residents in biodegradable paper yard waste bags during these time frames is collected for composting. During the remainder of the year, yard waste is collected as trash and incinerated at a waste-to-energy facility. In addition, yard waste set out in plastic bags is always collected as trash because plastic is not accepted by composting facilities."

The Manager's report to the Board identifies the following "issues:"

"Approving year-round yard waste collection will impact the Household Solid Waste Rate (HSWR). Based on the newly awarded solid waste collection contract prices, maintaining the current HSWR through the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 will provide sufficient funding to add year-round yard waste collection during the fourth quarter of FY 2016. To continue the yard waste collection service next fiscal year, however, the FY 2017 HSWR would need to increase by an estimated $35 per household.

"If the County Board does not approve of implementing year-round yard waste collection, then the Board is asked to decrease the annual HSWR from $271.04 to $256.44 (see Attachment A). This rate decrease is sufficient to maintain existing residential service levels (trash and recycling collection) at the new contract pricing."

The Manager's report to the Board points out that Arlington is the only jurisdiction that does not provide a formal yard waste collection program, but what's wrong with having the lowest-cost yard waste program? But one survey of those jurisdictions shows that nearly all are voluntary. So the county's staff, many of who seem to think they are world-class employees, set-up a survey to convince the Board there is near-unanimous community support for Arlington County doing what other counties are doing. If those online survey tools are that good, perhaps we can eliminate the Board, and just let the online survey monkey replace the Board.

Growls readers. Please take a few minutes, and tell the Arlington County Board that Arlington County taxpayers don't need additional mandates on increases to the household solid waste rate. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 17, 2015

Benefits and Costs of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

With Congress, the President, and presidential wannabes looking for ways to help the working poor, not to mention affecting tax reform, the Cato Institute's Chris Edwards, director of tax policy, and Veronique de Rugy, adjunct scholar, provide an informative and well-documented study of the earned income tax credit (Tax & Budget Bulletin No. 73, October 2015).

Here is the study's executive summary:

"With America’s sluggish economy and stagnant wages, federal policymakers are looking for ways to help the working poor. One idea that has gained some bipartisan support is expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC). President Barack Obama, members of Congress, and presidential candidates have all proposed plans to expand the tax credit.

"The EITC is a huge program. In 2015 it will provide an estimated $69 billion in benefits to 28 million recipients.2 The EITC is the largest federal cash transfer program for low-income households. Benefits are available to households with earnings from employment.

"While the EITC is administered through the tax code, it is primarily a spending program. The EITC is “refundable,” meaning that individuals who pay no income taxes are nonetheless eligible to receive a payment from the U.S. Treasury. Of the $69 billion in benefits this year, about 88 percent, or $60 billion, is spending.

"Articles by liberal and conservative pundits regarding the EITC often make it seem as if there are few downsides to the program. The EITC is aimed at reducing poverty and encouraging work. Who could be against that?

"Alas, there is no free lunch with subsidy programs. The EITC has a high error and fraud rate, and for most recipients it creates a disincentive to increase earnings.3 Also, the refundable part of the EITC imposes a $60 billion cost on other taxpayers, reducing their incentives to work, invest, and pursue other productive activities.

"We conclude that the costs of the EITC are likely higher than the benefits. As such, the program should be cut, not expanded. Policymakers could better aid low-income workers by removing government barriers to investment, job creation, and entrepreneurship."

According to Edwards and de Rugy, "In the early 1970s, policymakers considered ways to combat the anti-work effects of the growing welfare state. But rather than reining in the welfare state, they decided to expand it in 1975 by enacting the EITC. The credit was aimed at reviving work incentives and offsetting rising federal payroll taxes. It began as a temporary program, but Congress made it permanent in 1978."

The six-page study has several informative tables and charts. This is especially helpful, for example, in understanding the benefits of the EITC since the pattern of benefits involves a phase-in amount, a flat amount, and a phase-out amount. The authors also explain how the EITC reduces market wages; work incentives and disincentives; errors and fraud; EITC complexity; and, the high cost on taxpayers. Finally, they provide reform options.

Growls readers are encouraged to growl at their Congress Critters about the need for tax reform, not to mention learning what their representatives are doing to affect tax reform. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you. And kudos to Mr. Edwards, Ms. de Rugy, and the Cato Institute.

October 16, 2015

A Thought on "Middle Class Economics"

"After six-plus years of President Obama's big-spending, tax-raising policies, middle-class families have seen their incomes decline and more families have fallen into poverty, Census data show.

"The Census Bureau's latest annual report on income and poverty in America shows that there was little to cheer about in 2014.

"Median family income dropped slightly to $53,657, down from the year before. Every income group suffered losses, with the lowest fifth of households dropping close to 1%.

"The overall poverty number barely budged. But it climbed by almost 600,000 among blacks in 2014, more than half of whom were under age 18.

"This isn't exactly the picture that Obama has been painting. In fact, there's little that Obama likes to do more than brag about the economy.

"A couple of months ago, he was in Wisconsin, crediting his policies for "record" job growth, tumbling deficits and big gains in the stock market.

"Step by step, America is moving forward," he said. "Middle-class economics works. It works. Yes!"

"It's hard to see any evidence of that in the Census numbers. Indeed, the latest report shows that, despite more than six years of economic "recovery," the middle class is, incredibly, worse off than at the end of the Great Recession.

"From 2009 to 2014, real median household income dropped by more than $1,000 — or 2.3% — to $53,657. (And that decline would likely have been steeper if not for a 2013 change in the way the Census does its annual survey.)

~ Editorial, October 17-18, 2015, Investor's Business Daily

Source: Editorial, posted October 16, 2015 at Investor's Business Daily, where you can read the remainder of the editorial.

October 15, 2015

Initial CY 2016 Real Estate Assessments Up 1-3%

The Arlington County's School Board and County Board held a joint work session this afternoon from 4:00 PM until about 5:35 PM at the Ed Center on North Quincy Street.  The agenda consisted of 4 items:

  • Report on the South Arlington Working Group (SAWG), which has a purpose to site a new elementary school;
  • Adoption of the 2015 revenue sharing principles;
  • Fiscal Year 2017 preliminary revenue forecast;  and,
  • Budget schedule.

The presentation slides for the first two bullets should answer most of the questions you may have about those two topics. The FY 2017 preliminary revenue forecast was undoubtedly the main focus of the work session. The slide presentation provides the following information; consequently, I'll touch on the most relevant data points:

  • Commercial Vacancy Rate: the current county-wide commercial vacancy rate is now 20.8%, a decline of almost 12% from the 4th quarter 2014 rate of 23.6%. There are significant differences between the Virginia Square, Ballston, Rosslyn, Clarendon Courthouse and Crystal City corridors with Rosslyn's 3rd quarter commercial vacancy rate of 26.8% the highest and Virginia Square's 3rd quarter rate of 10.1% the lowest.
  • Arlington's Outlook: Arlington continues to grow, including population, service demands, school population, and both commercial and retail assessments.
  • Real Estate Trends: Residential is positive with 2015 sales and prices both up. Apartment show slower growth in rents with some concessions. Commercial office space continues to be under pressure with the vacancy continuing to be a "key concern."
  • Preliminary FY 2017 Revenue Projections: Residential assessments are expected to increase slightly with a projected range of 1-3%. Commercial assessments will be flat to negative. The flat commercial assessments will shift the burden to the homeowner.. Other taxes to show slow but positive growth, and minimal growth in fee revenues. A fee study is underway. State and federal revenue will be flat.
  • Finally, on a slide entitled, "pressures on the residential taxpayer," county staff projected how the 1-3% increase in assessments would affect the "annual local taxes and fees for the average single-family home." A 1% increase in assessment would result in a $58 increase, a 2% increase would result in a $115 increase, and a 3% increase in assessmenent would result in a $173 increase in taxes.

Given the current state of the economy, the Arlington County Board should direct the County Manager to propose a FY 2017 budget with no increase in taxes and fees for the mythical average homeowner. As we showed in our January 21, 2015 Growls, from FY 2005 through FY 2014, inflation increased at about an average annual rate of 2.58%, but Arlington County's general fund spending increased at an annual rate of 5.5%. The time has long passed when the Arlington County Board should start controlling county spending.

Stay tuned! The budget development schedule shows that real estate assessments will be finalized in January, and the County Manager and Superintendent are scheduled to release their proposed budgets in February. And that wil come sooner raather than later.

October 14, 2015

Curbing Federal Spending: An Effort to Balance the Budget

At the National Taxpayers Union's blog yesterday, Demian Brady describes the efforts of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, which includes in its mission researching and advocating "for reduced federal spending and balanced budgets."

According to Brady:

"My colleague, Nan Swift, neatly summarized an event she recently attended on the question, “What Will It Take to Cut Spending?” As the speakers noted, you can’t address the government’s chronic overspending simply by targeting “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Much of the projected growth in spending will come from the entitlement programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and the newer Obamacare subsidies. I don’t know what it will take to cut spending or enact spending restraints that Congress and the President will stop trying to buck, but we do have an idea of how much they will need to cut.

"The latest Treasury figures show that the government spent $435 billion more in FY 2015 than it collected in revenues, down from the $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009. The Congressional Budget Office budget outlook provides projection of the budget picture for the next 10 years. As I pointed out last week, the deficits have been getting smaller over the last several years but the trend will soon reverse. The deficit is projected to shrink again in FY 2016 before rising steadily through 2025.

"The total deficit for the next 10 years will be over $7 trillion. Federal receipts each year will hover at just over 18 percent of GDP while spending will rise from about 20.6 percent of GDP last Fiscal Year to 22 percent in 2025.

"On average, spending is expected to grow by about 5 percent per year. To get the budget close to balance by 2025 without increasing the tax burden, all you have to do is restrain the growth in spending to about 2.7 percent per year."

He includes the following graphic, which shows the federal budget deficit growing from $414 billion in FY 2016 to $1,008 trillion in FY 2025.

You can access the Coalition to Reduce Spending directly here.

As we like to advise, growl at your Congress Critter to complain at the amount of federal spending. They have the authority to do something about it. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). 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.

October 13, 2015

Wages Barely Grow. Are We Killing The Golden Goose?

At the Washington Free Beacon today, Ali Meyer reports, "Wages and salaries grew at 0.2 percent in the second quarter of 2015, which was the slowest rate recorded in 33 years, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This growth was down from the first quarter of 2015 when wages grew at 0.7 percent."

Meyer went on to say:

"One businessman says that wages aren’t rising because of government intervention such as labor rules, wage laws, and environmental regulations, which could potentially harm his business.

“The rules are confusing, but one thing is clear: Companies of all sizes will have to expend money and time trying to understand and comply, not to mention deal with any lawsuits the change provokes,” says Bob Funk, CEO of Express Employment Professionals.

"Funk says this money could be better used to increase employees’ wages and benefits or used to hire more employees."

The press release from the U.S. Department of Labor is available here.

An op-ed by Bob Funk, CEO of Express Employment Professionals. in today's Wall Street Journal (behind WSJ paywall). seems especially relevant. He says America's free enterprise "is under assault," writing:

"With the unemployment rate at 5.1% and second-quarter GDP growth at an annual rate of 3.9%, some economists can claim that the economy is chugging along fine. But from where I sit on Main Street, that’s not the way it is.

"There is something that the numbers are missing. Economics—and logic—tells us that if unemployment was truly that low and GDP that high, wages would be rising. Instead, wages grew at 0.2% during the second quarter, the slowest rate in 33 years. The median family income in America is approximately $53,000, below where it was before the 2008 economic meltdown.

"There is a disconnect today between what government experts say about the economy when they crunch the numbers and what employers throughout America say when they make hiring and wage decisions. Businesses, small and large, are holding back. Six years after the Great Recession officially ended, many worry about another downturn and fear new governmental intrusions.

"For decades, most businesses operated, innovated and expanded despite what was happening in the nation’s capital, or perhaps even oblivious to it. But now the goose that laid the golden egg is on the run. Free enterprise, which made the economy grow and produced rising wages for middle-income Americans, is under assault."

We've growled frequently on the topics of jobs, pay, the economy and economic growth. most recently here, here and here.

Tell your Congressional representative(s) about your concerns about jobs and the economy. Scroll down to Monday's Growls since we provided links to the websites of Senators Warner and Kaine and Representative Beyer.

And remember to tell them ACTA sent you.

October 12, 2015

A Thought on Tax Rates

"The fairer and lower tax rates are, the less tax evasion, avoidance and noncompliance there will be."

~ Arthur B. Laffer

Source: page 234, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

October 11, 2015

Sierra Club Gets Schooled on Global Warming Science

On Tuesday, October 6, 2015, the U.S. Senate's Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), held a hearing on "How Overregulation Harms Minorities."

In a story posted October 8 at CNS News, Barbara Hollingsworth wrote about the hearing, or at least specific aspects of it:

"Under questioning by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sierra Club president Aaron Mair testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday that despite satellite data to the contrary, “our planet is cooking up and heating and warming.”

"Although last month was “the fifth warmest September in the satellite record” due to the effects of a “monster El Nino”, “the global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.11 C per decade,” according to the latest report from the University of Alabama/Huntsville’s Earth System Science Center, which monitors advanced microwave sounding units installed on NOAA and NASA satellites.

“In the satellite data, there has been no significant warming for about 18 years or so,” center director John Christy told CNSNews.com.

"But when Cruz asked Mair if the satellite data was correct, he answered: “No.”

“I’m curious. The Sierra Club, is this a frequent practice to declare areas of science not up for debate, not up for consideration of what the evidence and data show?” Cruz asked him."

Hollingsworth's report includes the comments of experts in both weather satellite data collection and computer models used to estimate the effects of global warming. She also includes a 3:20 minute video segment from the subcommittee hearing.

A more detailed and comprehensive report of the Sierra Club president's testimony and questioning by Sen. Ted Cruz is provided in an October 8 article by James Taylor, a senior fellow in environmental policy for the Heartland Institute. Taylor, a Forbes contributor who writes on energy and environment issues, wrote:

"Sen. Ted Cruz embarrassed Sierra Club President Aaron Mair during Senate hearings Tuesday, as Mair was repeatedly unable to answer straightforward questions about global warming. Under cool, calm, respectful questioning from Cruz, Mair was repeatedly flustered and created long, embarrassing periods of silence while he sought help from aides to answer Cruz’s questions.

"In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, which Cruz chairs, Mair claimed humans are creating a global warming crisis, the crisis demands immediate action, and the topic should not be open to debate. During questioning at the end of Mair’s testimony, Cruz exposed Mair’s lack of knowledge regarding basic climate facts."

To support his contention that Sen. Cruz embarrassed the Sierra Club president, Taylor transcribes portions of the Q&A betwen Cruz and the Sierra Club president, Aaron Mair. He also intersperses remarks about Mair's need to ask Sierra Club staff about various global warming facts, e.g.:

"Mair then leaned back again for help, creating another embarrassing silence, while the same staffer whispered in his ear and Cruz patiently waited for an answer. After 14 seconds, Mair leaned forward and said:

Mair: “The answer is yes and, uh, essentially, uh, we rest on our position.”

"Cruz: “You said you are familiar with the Pause, so to what does the phrase “the Pause” refer?

"Mair leaned back again to allow the staffer to whisper in his ear. Mair eventually sat up straight again but didn’t say a word. After another 14 seconds of cumulative science, Cruz asked again:

Cruz: “I’m sorry, you said you were familiar with that term. So I asked to what does it refer?”

"Mair leaned back again for help. A few seconds later, Mair straightened up again and responded, “Essentially it is a slow in global warming during the ‘40s, sir.”

Taylor used the remainder of his column to discuss problems with computer models and the term, "the Pause," which "is not a phrase commonly applied to the 1940s. While it is true that global temperatures declined from the 1940s through the 1970s – even as carbon dioxide emissions rose significantly – the term, “the Pause” commonly refers to an ongoing prolonged lack of global temperature rise that goes back at least to 2002 and quite possibly to the mid-1990s, depending on how one views the data."

Also on Thursday, October 8, Sierra Club president, Aaron Mair, added a post to the Sierra Club's blog, the Compass. entitled, "Climate Denial is not an Option: A Response to Ted Cruz." There is also a video clip in which Mair covers what he wrote in the blog post.

The following day, the Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch responded to the Sierra Club's president with the title pretty much saying it all, "The Sierra Club Responded to Getting Schooled by Ted Cruz on Global Warming, and They're Still Wrong." Here is his conclusion:

"While the Sierra Club presents a lot of data (some of which has been previously debunked), the group still did not answer Cruz’s question about the “pause” in warming. Indeed, the group may still have no idea what the Republican presidential candidate is talking about.

"So, what was Cruz talking about?

"He’s talking about how satellite temperature data shows there’s been nearly 19 years without any statistically significant global warming. Remote Sensing Systems satellite data shows there has been no warming for 224 months straight, equaling some 18 years and eight months."

Both Bastasch and Taylor include satellite data showing temperatures during "the Pause."

For more information about the use of satellites to gather weather data see this February 7, 2015 article by David Rothbard that is posted at CFACT.

See also this August 21, 2015 entry at Australia's Jo Nova blog, which compares the collection of temperature data by essentially manual methods and by weather satellites.

At the Not a Lot of People Know That blog today, Paul Homewood provides more charts showing temperature changes based on satellite data.

Finally, Dr. Roy Spencer, climatologist and former NASA scientist, posts the "latest global warming anomaly" each month at his Global Warming website. The satellite readings are based upon "on-board precision redundant platinum resistance thermometers (PRTs) calibrated to a laboratory reference standard before launch."

In addition to the complete video of the  2 1/2 hour subcommittee hearing, which is linked at the top, You Tube has a 9:48 video, with over 530,000 views, that provides a good summary.

Once again, there has been virtually no reporting of this story by the so-called mainstream media. A just-completed Google search found only one story by a big-city newspaper -- a solid piece at a Dallas Morning News blog -- and reporting by the alternative media, e.g., Breitbart, The Blaze, Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal, and Western Journalism.

If the above discussion, or videos, has whetted your appetite about global warming (aka climate change by so-called warmistas), three websites you may want to start at:

In case you are asking, at this point, how many taxpayer dollars the U.S. government has spent on global warming, wonder no more. SEPP has calculated several numbers, including $165 billion for the fiscal years 1993-2013 and more than $40 billion since 1993 for "what is identified as climate science." By comparison, SEPP notes, American spent about $130 billion in current dollars for the Apollo program.

If you're left wondering why satellite temperature data isn't the official standard for global waarming, at least since 1978, or just want to know where your Congress Critter stands on the subject, we urge you to write to your representatives in Congress. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). 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.

October 10, 2015

Make that Nearly $1 Trillion + $60,000 of Wasted Tax Dollars

When we growled last night, we pegged the amount of wasted federal tax dollars from 2003 through 2014 at "nearly $1 trillion." Well, we're raising that total to "nearly $1 trillion + $60,000, based upon a Washington Free Beacon story yesterday that was reported by Elizabeth Harrington.

According to Harrington:

"The National Endowment for the Arts gave $60,000 for the production of a play about the first openly gay president of the United States who has to fight zombies in the basement, and who has a cheating First Man.

"Sen. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) highlighted the grant for “Zombie: The American” in his running series meant to expose wasteful spending.

"“The year is 2063 and Thom Valentine, the first openly gay President of the United States, faces a host of problems,” reads the Woolley Mammoth Theater Company’s description of the play. “An imminent civil war, the threat of an African invasion, an adulterous First Gentleman, and zombies in the basement of the White House!”

If this latest example of the waste of your tax dollars sufficiently raises your blood pressure, take a few minutes and write your favorite Congress Critter. We provided contact information in yesterday Growls that you can use.

And remember to tell them ACTA sent you!

October 09, 2015

Nearly $1 Trillion of Your Federal Tax Dollars Wasted

Earlier this month, the Washington Free Beacon reported that "improper payments across government agencies hit $124.7 billion in 2014."

According to the Washington Free Beacon's Joe Schoffstall:

"Improper payments across federal government agencies are estimated to have hit $124.7 billion last year, according to a new government report.

"The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report Thursday addressing improper payments made by 124 programs across 22 government agencies, actions that are considered a pervasive government-wide issue. The watchdog estimates that such improper payments throughout the federal agencies totaled $124.7 billion in fiscal year 2014, an increase of nearly $19 billion from fiscal year 2013.

“The federal government continues to face an unsustainable long-term fiscal path. Changing this path will require difficult fiscal policy decisions to alter both long-term federal spending and revenue,” the report states. “In the near term, executive branch agencies and Congress can take action to improve the government’s fiscal position by addressing two long-standing issues—improper payments and the tax gap. Over time, these issues involve amounts near or exceeding $1 trillion.”

"According to the GAO, the significant increase of improper payments between fiscal years 2013 and 2014 is mainly attributed to Medicare, Medicaid, and Earned Income Tax programs. These three areas accounted for 75 percent of all improper payments, with Medicare-related programs responsible for $59.9 billion (48 percent) in improper payments as the Earned Income Tax Credit added $17.7 billion (14.2 percent). Additionally, Medicaid contributed $17.5 billion (17.5 percent) in such payments while all other government programs accounted for $29.6 billion (23.7 percent).

"The amount federal agencies have made in improper payments has drastically increased over the past decade, according to data within the report."

He then adds, "The root causes of improper payments were said to stem from administrative and documentation errors, authentication, and medical necessity errors, verification errors, and fraud."

Michael Cohn of Accounting Today reported (free registration required) on the second subject addressed in the GAO testimony to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, which was the so-called tax gap. According to Cohn:

"The GAO report noted that addressing the estimated $385 billion net tax gap—the difference between taxes owed and those paid on time, as a result of taxpayers underreporting their tax liability, underpaying taxes, or not filing tax returns—will require strategies on multiple fronts. Key factors that contribute to the tax gap include limited third-party reporting, resource trade-offs, and the complexity of the tax code.

“For example, the extent to which individual taxpayers accurately report their income is correlated to the extent to which the income is reported to them and the Internal Revenue Service by third parties,” said the GAO. “Where there is little or no information reporting, such as with business income, taxpayers tend to significantly misreport their income.”

"The GAO has made many recommendations over the years to reduce the tax gap, the report noted. For example, the GAO recommended in 2012 that the IRS use return on investment data to reallocate its enforcement resources and potentially increase revenues. Since 2011, the GAO also recommended improvements to telephone and online services to help the IRS deliver high-quality services to taxpayers who wish to comply with tax laws but do not understand their obligations. Other strategies the GAO has suggested would require legislative actions, such as accelerating W-2 filing deadlines. In addition, requiring partnerships and corporations to electronically file tax returns could help the IRS reduce return processing costs and focus its examinations more on noncompliant taxpayers. Further, a broader opportunity to address the tax gap involves simplifying the Internal Revenue Code, as complexity can cause taxpayer confusion and provide opportunities to hide willful noncompliance."

It's also worth noting that in talking about the tax gap, the Comptroller General had some specific advice about tax reform and simplification, saying:

"A broader opportunity to address the tax gap involves simplifying the Internal Revenue Code, as complexity can cause taxpayer confusion and provide opportunities to hide willful noncompliance. Fundamental tax reform could result in a smaller tax gap if the new system has fewer tax preferences or complex tax code provisions; such reform could reduce IRS’s enforcement challenges and increase public confidence in the tax system. Short of fundamental reform, targeted simplification opportunities also exist. Amending the tax code to make definitions more consistent across tax provisions could help taxpayers more easily understand and comply with their obligations and get the maximum tax benefit for their situations. For example, there are several provisions in the tax code benefiting taxpayers’ educational expenses, but the definition of what qualifies as a higher-education expense varies between these tax expenditures."

Wondering where the $1 trillion figure came from? In his testimony to the Senate Finance Committee, Eugene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States, said "improper payments remain a significant, pervasive government-wide issue," saying specifically:

"Improper payments remain a significant and pervasive government-wide issue. Since fiscal year 2003—when certain agencies began reporting improper payments as required by the Improper Payments Information Act of 2002 (IPIA)—cumulative improper payment estimates have totaled almost $1 trillion." (emphasis added)

On page 4 of the 60-page report, there is a chart that identifies the amount of overpayments by year. The Comptroller General's full testimony can be accessed here. A 1-page highlights is available here. Or, you can access both items here.

Not surprisingly, neither the Comptroller General's testimony or the Senate Finance hearings were reported by virtually all of the so-called mainstream media. The only daily that reported the story, according to Google News (search terms: "improper payments tax gap), was the Washington Times although The Hill, which focuses on Capitol Hill, also reported this story.

If you haven't recently growled at one of your members of Congress, there seems no better topic than the waste of your tax dollars. Take a few minutes, and tell Congress to stop wasting your tax dollars. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). 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.

October 08, 2015

Arlington Public Schools Staff Finally Getting the Message?

A news item this morning at the online Arlington Sun Gazette says, "Cost-cutting efforts continue on future H-B Woodlawn." According to the Sun Gazette story:

"Arlington school officials say they are making progress in whittling down the costs of a new home for H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program.

"School Board members hit the roof in August after planners came in with a projected cost of $100 million for the new facility – far higher than the $80 million first proposed – and sent chastened staff and a community planning group back to the drawing board.

"Those efforts are bearing fruit, School Board Vice Chairman Nancy Van Doren said at the Oct. 7 meeting of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

“A great deal of work has been done . . . to bring the project costs down,” Van Doren said, while suggesting more work may need to be done.

"School Board members received an update on the planning effort Oct. 6, and are slated to see the concept design for the new school on Nov. 5.

"As envisioned, the western Rosslyn building will hold the H-B Woodlawn program and the smaller Stratford Program, both moving from their current homes along Lee Highway."

The plan is to have the new school set to open in the 2019-2020 school year.

A front-page story by Scott McCaffrey in the August 20, 2015 edition of the Arlington Sun Gazette reported:

"Arlington School Board members on Aug. 13 reacted negatively to a new staff proposal that pushes the cost of the new H-B Woodlawn/Stratford building from an previously estimated $80 million to just under $100 million, and sent staff members back to evaluate cost-cutting options.

“We have to put our feet on the ground and be realistic,” said School Board Vice Chairman Nancy Van Doren after a briefing on the conceptual design for the proposed Rosslyn project.

"Van Doren was one of a number of board members expressing ill-disguised ire that staff did not flesh out a design option that would complete the project for the originally-agreed-to $80 million.

"While praising the $100 million option as “absolutely stunning,” Van Doren intimated it may be a champagne proposal in a Pabst Blue Ribbon budget environment.

“I need to know what $80 million gets us, because that’s all we may have,” she said.

"Board member James Lander appeared even more irked at the staff proposal, for which the school system would need to find almost $14 million in funding it does not currently have.

"An $80 million facility is “what we signed on for,” Lander said, and said staff should have presented that option even if “it has two seats in it.”

Kudos, too, to Arlington resident Steven Hearne for responding on September 30, 2015 to the Sun Gazette's August 20 story. Citing construction data tracked by the Virginia Department of Education, he suggested that even the $80 million figure "appears  to be an excessive amount." He concluded by writing:

"As concerned as the School Board is at the APS staff estimate increasing by $20 million over budget, Arlington residents should be outraged by the School Board authorizing APS staff to spend even $80 million.

"It is incumbent on the County Board, the School Board and staff to re-think their free-wheeling approach to spending on vanity projects and to start focusing on making the most out of the resources that are available. The cost of the new H-B Woodlawn project would appear to be tens of millions of dollars in excess of what is necessary to complete any reasonable project.  Those tens of millions of dollars could, and should, be re-allocated to address the school system’s capacity concerns."

We growled on June 6, 2014 about the spendthrift ways of the Arlington School Board on school construction.

Given the implications for taxpayers, we urge all Growls readers to growl to members of the Arlington School Board about construction costs at the new H-B Woodlawn school.Tell School Board members the $80 million price  tag is still way too high for a Pabst Blue Ribbon budget environment. Just click-on the link below:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-6015

And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 07, 2015

Federal Government Pay Outdistances Private Sector Workers

At Cato@Liberty, the Cato Institute's blog, on Monday, Chris Edwards wrote, "Federal Government Pay Exceeds Most Industries." He went on to provide the context:

"New data show that worker compensation is rising faster in the federal government than in the private sector. After rapid growth in federal pay during the George W. Bush years, growth slowed from 2011 to 2013 after policymakers enacted a partial freeze on federal wages.

"That era of restraint is now over. The latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) show that wages rose 2.9 percent in the federal government in 2014, on average, compared to 1.7 percent in the private sector. When benefits such as pensions and health care are included, federal compensation increased 2.8 percent, on average, compared to 1.3 percent in the private sector.

"Federal civilian workers had an average wage of $84,153 in 2014, compared to an average in the private sector of $56,350. The federal advantage in overall compensation (wages plus benefits) is even greater. Federal compensation averaged $119,934 in 2014, which was 78 percent higher than the private-sector average of $67,246. This essay discusses trends in federal and private pay."

Edwards went on to note the BEA provides average compensation data by industry, providing the chart below, which shows 17 major industries plus groupings such as federal (military and civilian) and state and local governments. The chart shows "(t)he Federal government has the fourth highest paid workers in the United States, after utilities, mining and management of companies" with average worker compensation of $119,934, which far exceeds the average compensation of $67,246 in all private industries:

His essay, posted at DownsizingtheFederalGovernment.org provides many more details on the costs of Federal workers pay and benefits. The essay includes several helpful charts, too.

Government Executive published a relatively extensive review of Mr. Mr. Edwards's study for the Cato Institute. The article by Eric Katz points out:

"The wage gap between the federal and private sectors has grown since the 1990s, Cato’s director of tax policy studies found. The divide has doubled since 1990, when it was just 39 percent. The growth, he said, came from not just raising pay levels and offering more generous benefits, but also a more “top-heavy” bureaucracy that routinely moves employees into higher salary brackets and redefines jobs as higher earning positions.

“The federal government has become an elite island of secure and high-paid employment, separated from the ocean of average Americans competing in the economy,” Edwards wrote in his findings.

"The Cato study examines raw compensation data, and does not account for any fundamental differences in the demographics of the federal workforce or the work it does.

“I want to stress the importance of comparing apples to apples,” said Robert Goldenkoff, director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office and author of a 2012 report examining the federal-private pay gap, of the new study. “Federal employees tend to be better educated and work in jobs that require higher skill levels compared to non-federal jobs, so Cato's results comparing average wages of feds to other sectors are both not surprising and don't tell the whole story. More rigorous, sophisticated analysis is needed.”

"Several efforts have been made at such analyses, comparing federal and private sector pay based either in job-related attributes or individuals' personal attributes. The Federal Salary Council, a group made up of union representatives and pay experts that advises the President’s Pay Agent, has consistently found federal workers are severely underpaid compared to the private sector. Other conservative think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, found compensation favored feds, but by less than Cato’s findings. USA Today and the Project on Government Oversight both found a 20 percent gap in favor of federal workers, while the Congressional Budget Office has said the divide depends on education breakdowns of high school, bachelor’s degree or professional degree."

Finally, at American Thinker today, Thomas Lifson, who gets the HT for the link to the above Government Executive article, writes, and asks the pertinent question:

"Government Executive, which primarily serves government employees, hastens to cite other factors and studies to minimize the disparity.  And, in fact, federal employees tend to be older and have higher educational credentials than the workforce as a whole.  But that said, does the average employee of a workforce renowned for its many holidays, you-can’t-fire-me insouciance, and, face it, miserable effectiveness, merit $119K a year?" (italics in the original)

For the record, your humble scribe retired from the federal government, and will attest there are some outstanding federal workers who could easily earn several times the compensation they earn, or earned, as a  federal employee. That said, Mr. Lifson's question about the compensation for the average worker is well taken.

In some sense, the difference in compensation between federal and private sector employees is similar to the gender pay gap that liberals always complain about. When liberals complain that women earn 78% of what men earn, they have an argument. On the other hand, when you compare pay based on similar education, experience, and skills profile, conservatives win the argument since the gender gap that liberals scream about virtually disappears. The problem, of course, is the difficulty in comparing private sector and federal jobs. The work of accountants and economists may be similar, but there are many other jobs that cannot be so easily compared.

If you are concerned about the compensation of federal employees, and have the time, take a few minutes and growl to your representatives in Congress. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). 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.

October 06, 2015

A Thought on Global Warming (aka Climate Change)

"The effort to suppress global warming dissidents is not new. Grist Magazine writer David Roberts said: "When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards — some sort of climate Nuremberg."

"Professor Richard Parncutt has called for the execution of prominent "GW deniers." Climate Progress editor Joe Romm called for deniers to be strangled in their beds. James Hansen, who has headed NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has likewise called for trials of global warming deniers.

"The global warming agenda is a desperate effort to gain greater control over our lives. Political commentator Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956) explained, "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

"That's the political goal of the global warmers."

~ Walter E. Williams

Source: His October 6, 2015 Column, posted at Investor's Business Daily.

October 05, 2015

High Office Vacancy Top Concern of 3 of 4 Board Candidates

At an Arlington County Board candidate forum yesterday, three of four Board candidates said the "Office-vacancy rate a threat to Arlington's vitality," according to an online report this morning by the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey. According to McCaffrey:

"They may have been speaking to a sanctuary filled with affordable-housing advocates, but three of the four County Board candidates singled out fixing Arlington’s teetering commercial-office-vacancy situation as the biggest threat to community well-being – and the fourth contender put it high on her list, as well.

“Fill that office space” is how independent candidate Michael McMenamin described what he believed is the most pressing county-government issue at the Oct. 4 forum, sponsored by Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) and held at Arlington Presbyterian Church.

"Directed at the end of the forum by Rev. Linda Peebles of Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington to list the three issues needing immediate triage, McMenamin was joined by Democrat Christian Dorsey and independent Audrey Clement in zeroing in on the county’s record office-vacancy rate. The rate currently stands at about 20 percent, three to four times higher than county officials would like.

"Addressing the problem “requires our utmost attention,” said Dorsey, because with lower tax revenue resulting from empty office space, “we haven’t been able to make the necessary investments” in everything from open space to housing to core services.

"Only Democrat Katie Cristol put the office-vacancy situation lower than No. 1 on her list of concerns, ranking it below growing school enrollment.

"After the 90-minute forum, Cristol stood by her ranking, calling the health of the office market “interrelated” with meeting the challenges of school growth.

“I think about things holistically,” she said."

The remainder of the article deals with the four candidates' views on the so-called Affordable Housing Master Plan, which was recently adopted by the Arlington County Board. (see our September 21, 2015 Growls)

At the June 2015 monthly meeting of the Arlington County Civic Federation, the group's Revenues & Expenditures (R&E) Committee reported to delegates on the challenge of economic development in Arlington County. In the section on commercial office rates, R&E wrote:

"Trying to understand the many causes of how Arlington County came to have a current vacancy rate of 21.8% -- above the 15-year historical average12 -- is beyond the scope of this study, e.g., having access to the county’s inventory of commercial office space.

"However, a review of the online copies of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR’s) suggest the current 21.8% rate has been increasing since 2001. The information in the chart on the following page is taken directly from the County Manager’s transmittal memorandum of each year’s CAFR. The CAFR contains the county’s financial statements that have been audited by the independent auditors. More specifically the numbers come from the Manager’s description of the local economy.

"Rather than using the transmittal memo to highlight the continuing problem of high commercial vacancy rates. For example, the transmittal memo in one CAFR -- for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006 -- boasted that "Arlington has more private office space than downtown Los Angeles, Atlanta or Seattle and is the epitome of smart growth and new urbanism . . . .”

One of the problems, noted by R&E, was the County Manager does not draw attention to the trend of the vacancy rates in the Manager's introduction to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). In R&E's report, we noted the rate increased from 1.90% in July 2001 to 20.4% in 2014's 2nd quarter, but the County Manager did not highlight that growing trend in any one of the intervening CAFR's. Unfortunately, R&E's report has not been posted on the Civic Federation's website, but if any Growls reader wishes a copy, we'll provide a copy of R&E's report.

The county's Arlington Economic Development (AED) department produces a monthly two-page flyer of economic  indicators, available here. Incidentally, the EOM September 2015 vacancy rate is 20.6%.

Growls readers who wish more information about the November 3, 2015 General Election should contact Arlington County's Office of Voter Registration, Suite 320, 2100 Clarendon Boulevard (703-228-3456), or it's Elections Office website. If you have concerns about economic development or the county's commercial vacancy rates, contact the Arlington County Board. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 04, 2015

A Thought about the Income Tax

"The income tax has spawned an intrusive bureaucracy, creating so much complexity and red tape that millions of ordinary citizens have to go get some accountant to fill out the forms for them -- and then sign under penalty of perjury that it was done right. If you knew how to do it right, you wouldn't have to go to somebody else to have it done, wouldn't you?"

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: page 180, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

To read more by Thomas Sowell, please visit his website.

October 03, 2015

A Thought on the Ninth Amendment

The Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Source: The Bill of Rights as Ratified, "Resources" at The Patriot Post.


"United States v. Carolene Products Co. was almost as far-reaching in its expansion of federal power as Helvering. It had three effects, overlapping but distinct. First, it effectively did what the Ninth Amendment had been intended to prevent -- it limited the rights of the American people to those that were explicitly named in the text of the Constitution and its amendments. Second, it effectively wiped out protections of economic rights. Third, it gave the Court latitude to decide which rights were fundamental and which were not -- and thereby cut the legs from under the Court's protection even of rights that are not spelled out in the Constitution." (italics in the original)

~ Charles Murray

Source: page 21, "By the People: Rebuilding Librerty Without Permission," by Charles Murray, available at Barnes and Noble. To see book's cover, see previous Growls.

October 02, 2015

A Thought on Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Rich

"The power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbour(sic) and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less than that which the smallest functionaire(sic) possesses who wields the coercive power of the state, and on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am to be allowed to live or to work."

~ Friedrich von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

Source: page ix, "By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission,: Charles Murray, available at Barnes and Noble.

October 01, 2015

Electronic Health Records a $30 Billion Boondoggle?

At the CNS News website today, Barbara Hollingsworth references a new GAO report and writes, "The federal government’s six-year-old, $30 billion Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Programs – which were designed to cut medical costs by allowing doctors and hospitals serving Medicare and Medicaid recipients to share test results and clinical data – are having the opposite effect."

Hollingsworth continued her reporting:

"Representatives from 10 of 18 non-federal, non-profit participating organizations interviewed by GAO between April and September said that program requirements “divert resources and attention from other efforts to enable interoperability.”

"As a result, the costs of trying to combine incompatible patient records is forcing medical costs up instead of down.

“Sixteen of the 18 initiatives are working to address the challenge of the reported high costs associated with interoperability,” GAO reported.

The EHR incentive program was funded under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act as part of the 2009 stimulus legislation.

"But Stage 2 of the program is so complex that only about 11 percent of the 491,000 eligible physicians and 42 percent of the nearly 4,500 eligible hospitals have been able to comply with it, according to Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), one of five Senate committee chairman who requested the GAO study.

"Representatives from five of the groups interviewed “suggested pausing or stopping the programs” altogether because differing technical standards and variations in state privacy rules are making the goal of interoperability difficult to reach, the GAO reported."

She concluded by noting the views of two critics, saying:

"But critics point out that achieving EHR interoperability poses a threat to patient privacy.

“Given the absence of patient consent requirement for data sharing, the lack of interoperability is all that protects Americans from a nationally imposed breach of their medical privacy,” said Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom.

“If a personal, computerized medical record is considered so essential, why not simply scan anything pertinent onto a thumb drive for the patient, so he alone has control of it and can decide who will have access?” asked Lawrence Pivnik, MD JD, a contributing fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA)."

The U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO report (No. GAO-15-816, September 2015) is entitled, "Nonfederal Efforts to Help Achieve Health Information Interoperability." A one-page summary is here.

GAO identified their reasoning for performing the audit this way:

"EHR interoperability is viewed by many health care stakeholders as a necessary step toward improving health care. However, interoperability has remained limited. Although the federal government plays a key role in guiding movement toward interoperability, many of the actions are to be completed by nonfederal stakeholders.

"GAO was asked to review the status of efforts by entities other than the federal government to develop infrastructure that could lead to nationwide interoperability of health information. This report describes the (1) characteristics of selected nonfederal initiatives intended to facilitate EHR interoperability, and (2) key challenges related to EHR interoperability and the extent to which selected nonfederal initiatives are addressing these challenges. GAO interviewed representatives from 18 selected nonfederal initiatives that were frequently mentioned by stakeholders GAO interviewed, and reflected a range of approaches. GAO reviewed documents from these initiatives as well as other published research."

John R. Graham, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) and a financial, economic, and policy analyst in the health sector for Forbes magazine posted a health alert yesterday urging the cancellation of any meaning use of Stage 3 electronic health records at NCPA's Health Policy Blog, saying in part:

"Over one quarter of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives – 116 of them – just signed a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services urging delay of the next step in the federal government’s struggling effort to impose uniform federal requirements for health information technology.

"The rule in question is Meaningful Use Stage 3 (MU3), imposed by the federal government via the HITECH Act of 2009. The so-called “stimulus” act committed almost $30 billion to induce physicians and health facilities to install Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and move patient records beyond clipboards and manila file folders. These are worthy goals. Unfortunately, the $30 billion has pretty much all been spent, and there is precious little to show for it."

There are several related posts available there, too.

Have a few minutes to write your Congress Critter? Tell them you're tired of the continued waste, fraud and abuse in federal government programs. They need to hear you growl, in addition to knowing your positions on federal government spending. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). 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. And kudos to the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) for continuing to publish meaningful and understandable analyses of public policy.