The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is legendary for tangling up businesses in red tape. Yet when it comes to passing out millions in taxpayer money, it exhibits a casual, devil-may-care attitude. In 1999 the agency passed out $1.3 billion of its $7.5 billion budget in grants and contracts, often in complete disregard of the federal government's competitive bidding process.
A May 2001 report from the EPA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) discovered that the "EPA often awards non-competitive assistance agreements to recipients based on the unsupported belief that those recipients were the only entities capable of performing the work." That's bureaucratese for, "It gave the money to friends." To justify the awards, the envirocrats retreat to the boilerplate retort that recipients were "uniquely qualified." In March 2002 the OIG returned to find that sweetheart deals accounted for "1 out of every 5 dollars of the $1 billion" the EPA awarded in 1999 and 2000.
Suspicious that the agency was using taxpayer money to fund groups that were "uniquely qualified" to lobby for more money for the EPA, the Landmark Legal Foundation took the agency to court in September 2000 to force it to disclose grant recipients. Some highlights of the $2 billion awarded noncompetitively since 1993 included $47,000 to help the Seattle Mariners start a recycling program at their new $500 million ballpark, $1,500 for academics to design a solid waste board game called the "Can Man Game," and $379 million to senior citizen groups to recruit and pay senior citizens to work for the EPA. The agency even funds its ostensible enemies, providing $2 million in grants to the National Association of Homebuilders and $4.9 million to the Natural Resources Defense Council, both of which have sued the agency in the past.
The EPA claims to be on the road to reform. "The agency has become much more sensitive of the need for competition in grants," Howard Corcoran, head of the EPA grants office, told the Associated Press.