Government Waste

Rand Paul Says Feds Blew Millions Supporting Tunisian Political Parties, Subsidizing Pakistani Films, and More

No single spending item is going to solve America's $22 trillion national debt, but every little bit of wasteful spending makes the tough problems more difficult to solve.


American taxpayer money helped boost political parties in Tunisia and subsidize films made in Pakistan—because "nation building" might have fallen off the front pages, but it remains part of the federal budget.

Both are highlighted in a report published last week by Sen. Rand Paul's (R–Ky.) office. The summer 2019 edition of Paul's ongoing "Waste Book" project includes more than $50 billion in wasteful government spending, including not only nation-building exercises in the Middle East, but also studies of frog mating calls, building "green" infrastructure in Peru, and improper payments made by federal entitlement programs.

In Tunisia, the State Department spent $2 million to "strengthen democratic institutions and processes," apparently as part of an effort to increase trust between the Tunisian people and their nascent democratic system. Paul's office points out that the State Department has spent more than $1.4 billion trying to shore up Tunisian democracy since the 2011 uprising that deposed Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled as a dictator since 1987.

"What makes State believe $2 million more will succeed where 1.4 billion has failed?" Paul's report asks.

Indeed, American attempts at nation building in Tunisia have been less disastrous (and far less expensive) than elsewhere, but that hardly justifies well-intentioned but likely futile attempts to impose political stability from the outside. If anything, the American government's involvement in Tunisian domestic politics will only make locals less trusting of the political process.

Spending $100,000 to help underwrite film productions in Pakistan seems like an equally impotent way to sow the seeds of democracy. The grant is supposed to help facilitate the making of up to 50 short films by Pakistani filmmakers—the movies are supposed to have themes of "strength in diversity" and "women's empowerment" according to the grant application documents. As nice as that might be, it seems pretty far outside the American government's essential functions, particularly since the State Department also says the Pakistani film industry is already "growing dramatically."

Wasteful exercises in nation building are, sadly, not anything new. Last year, Reason's Brian Doherty reported on the shocking levels of waste found by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Among other things, American taxpayers paid $43 million for a natural gas filling station in a country where there are few natural gas-powered vehicles, $60 million for an uninhabitable hotel in Kabul, and $28 million for new camouflage military uniforms designed to mimic a forest environment—despite the fact that Afghanistan isn't really known for its forests.

No single spending item is going to solve America's $22 trillion national debt, but every little bit of wasteful spending makes the tough problems more difficult to solve. Paul's report includes more than $50 billion in waste, though the vast majority of that total ($48 billion of it) is due to improper payments made by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). That's been a recurring problem for the federal agency responsible for the two major medical entitlement programs—the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has listed CMS as a "high-risk program" for wasteful spending every year since 1990.

The Department of Homeland Security's ongoing efforts to renovate an abandoned Washington, D.C., mental hospital to be used as a new headquarters was a distant second in Paul's accounting. His report claims DHS has spent more than $2.1 billion on the project so far, and there is still more work to be done at the site.

Set against the nation-building projects and other weird examples of waste, those two projects provide a helpful illustration of the federal government's real spending problem. As nonsensical (or even counterproductive) as some foreign aid projects can be, it is entitlement programs and basic operational costs (like the overhead expenses that come from employing more than 2 million people) that must be targeted if federal spending is to be reduced in a meaningful way.

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  1. Rather hilarious (and fitting) for Paul to lament this but had no problem adding 2 trillion to the debt for tax breaks for the wealthy. "Oh look, we can save a penny!" as he throws benjamins out the window.

    1. Um, revenues went up after the tax breaks were enacted.

      1. It doesn't matter that revenue went up because we were told the tax breaks would pay for themselves. That did not happen so we are still out money for a tax cut that did not really work as was promised. Better to start with cutting spending and leave the tax cuts to when you have actually saved some money.

        1. Tax revenues increased greater than GDP growth. Silly democrat talking points only get more silly the more often they are repeated.

          "If you cut taxes and revenues increase you have not cut taxes enough" Milton Friedman

    2. 1) As pointed out, the revenue went up after the tax cut
      2) A tax cut is not spending, so it is categorically different. Had revenue gone down, the answer would still be the same: cut spending, since both spending and taxes are way too high.

      1. "A tax cut is not spending"

        In the retarded mind of a liberal (redundant, yes I know) not taking is giving and not giving is taking. If you don't take from the rich then you are giving them money, and if you don't give to the poor you are taking money away. That is what they really believe.

    3. Word. Rand is a panderer of the worst kind, who only complains about government waste that relates to Republican pet peeves.

      1. Don’t cut him short. He is an excellent panderer.

  2. The big money is military and entitlements, but the small stuff matters too. Likewise, cutting out the afternoon candy bar out won't turn a morbidly obese couch potato into an Olympian, but if you can't even cut out the candy bar, you have little chance of making the major habit changes needed to fix the obesity.

    1. At this point, the small stuff is nothing but a virtue-signaling distraction. A way of avoiding the difficult stuff while still pretending you are responsible.

      The problem is not itty bitty stuff. It is a profound lack of courage among pols

      1. But itty bitty stuff is, in fact, a problem, too. And it's arguably the most intractable one.

        I've been in public construction for fifteen years now, and I've been trying that whole time to figure out why it's so expensive.

        It isn't any one single thing. It's top-shelf door hardware. It's wall finishes that have to be shipped overseas. It's consultants and inspectors (and inspections). It's higher-gauge framing studs than necessary. It's overtime and delay costs from lack of planning. And on and on and on.

        Overall, it's micro-mission-creep in every direction born of spending other people's money.

        The little piddly things don't seem worthwhile until you realize that there's literally a billion of them.

        1. Not urgent, not important, and not possible seems to me like it should have even less priority. Like the person spending even one nanosecond on that should be flayed for trying to waste everyone else's time pretending that it is urgent, important or possible.

        2. As you say, it's other people's money. Bureaucrats notoriously write contracts with crazy liquidated damages clauses in case the project is late or under performs as a way to protect themselves from risk. Contractors then inflate the bids to compensate. No owner, using their own money, would pay for that kind of insurance.

  3. be the people who stop it instead.

  4. The Department of Education; he forgot the Department of Education.
    And Labor
    And Agriculture
    And HUD
    And Commerce
    And HHS
    And Energy
    Cutting never works; it must be elimination of the entire department.
    Since the founding of the nation, the only department actually cut (not renamed or "merged') was the Post Office; which lives on in the budget if not the cabinet.

  5. In order to be a truly principled libertarian, Rand Paul must denounce Drumpf's draconian war on immigration.

    Honestly when it comes to the issues that really matter, AOC is a better libertarian than Rand Paul is. At least she is drawing attention to Orange Hitler's literal concentration camps in which people are literally forced to drink from toilets.

  6. "What makes State believe $2 million more will succeed where 1.4 billion has failed?" Paul's report asks.

    The power of good intentions!

    1. the only reason any government program has ever failed is that it wasn't fully funded, duh.

  7. Since the 2011 uprising that deposed Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

    You know who else had a Zine?

    1. Alfred E. Neuman?

    2. Gabrielle?

  8. So, it's Wednesday?

  9. "American taxpayer money helped boost political parties in Tunisia and subsidize films made in Pakistan..."

    This is totes OK, but if other countries attempt (allegedly, at least) to do the same, well...

  10. Did they have American bots trying to influence Tunisian Facebook users?

  11. "50 short films by Pakistani filmmakers—the movies are supposed to have themes of "strength in diversity" and "women's empowerment"

    Hillary Clinton thought our soldiers were dying in Afghanistan so that girls could go to school. Same old same old.

  12. "studies of frog mating calls"

    I want to say something about this type of hype put out by politicians. First the Federal Government doesn't directly give out grant for frog mating calls. This grant would likely be nested in funds for the improvement of some water body or bodies. So it might start out as block of money to improve and maintain the Great Lakes, one goal is to increase sport fish, that leads to improving there food source and understanding what is happening to the frog population through mating or lack of mating. No politician want to pull funds from the Great Lakes, an important national resources. But they will pick and these little nested grants. Especially those not going to a university in their state. If you want to cut the funds, first read the study grant proposal and criticize it on that not ridicule it.

    1. I poke fun at it because it is )USA funny on the surface.

      Which is why Paul and other watchdog types do that.

      If you want to be serious, say it was part of a fish and wildlife budget or something. Yes having some department to check on that stuff is a good idea. Not sure why the feds need to be involved. Federal government tends to be less efficient and wasteful.

      Every state has that and local governments often as well. They are better able to address local concerns about the fish and wildlife situation or what diseases may be affecting crops and so on.

      1. Typo there.

  13. Will someone out there please explain to me why we're giving our hard earned money to a bunch of shit hole countries run by demented dictators?

  14. Paul is nibbling at the crumbs. Where's his plan to spend 3 trillion on trying to change the weather? 2.4 trillion on universal basic cash transfer? A trillion or two on student loan forgiveness for future wealthy Democrats?

  15. Frog studies.

    The frogs eat the insects. The bigger animals, raccoons, herons, skunks, other critters like that eat the frogs.

    So everyone is happy and pretty much all you need to know.

    We certainly need to fund more studies as to how this thing happens all by itself without a single government input or regulation necessary. Frogs are anarchists.

  16. “In Tunisia, the State Department spent $2 million to "strengthen democratic institutions and processes”

    Which sounds like “we are not going to tell you what we spent it on”

  17. Cutting spending does just that - it cuts spending! It does NOT touch the debt !

    The debt was essentially covered by the state creating new assets like printing new money or selling bonds and the like.

    Literally burning the newly created money will not only pay off some of the debt but ALSO restore spending power of the dollar !

    This in turn implies that maybe much of the debt has already been paid off through the devaluation of the currency that took place to allow deficit spending to begin with!.

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