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Follow the Money: Government Spending

Updated on January 12, 2017
PegCole17 profile image

Peg Cole earned a BA in Government and Politics at UT Dallas. She's a former project manager turned freelance writer.

Snow covered mountains in Ghazni, Afghanistan
Snow covered mountains in Ghazni, Afghanistan | Source

“Show me the money,” a famous line from the movie, Jerry Maguire, reflects the sentiment many of today's taxpayers are feeling. With the current volatility of politics, some citizens have begun to question the honesty, integrity and accountability of politicians and government.

Few citizens take the time to read official reports issued by the United States Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors Office of Inspector General. That sort of mind-numbing reading is best left for insomniacs who think that what's going on in our government is of interest.

In this "Sensitive But Unclassified" document from the Conflict and Stabilization Operations, (CSO) Report ISP-I-14-06 from the Office of Inspections, March 2014, they listed a number of jaw-dropping revelations about how the taxpayer's money is being spent and how the department is run. Some of these observations may be surprising.

"The Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) advances the Department of State's understanding of violent conflict through analysis and planning; monitoring, evaluation, and learning..."

U.S. Secretary of State

John Kerry, September 4, 2014
John Kerry, September 4, 2014 | Source

"The Secretary of State, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, is the President's chief foreign affairs adviser. The Secretary carries out the President's foreign policies through the State Department, which includes the Foreign Service, Civil Service, and U.S. Agency for International Development. On February 1, 2013, John Kerry was sworn in as the 68th Secretary of State of the United States." 1

"The Assistant Secretary and several of his deputies promote a culture of bending and evading rules...

Official Seal of the U.S. Department of State
Official Seal of the U.S. Department of State | Source

Action Items and Results

Working in the purchasing department for a multi-billion dollar corporation, our staff was required to write procedures and process documentation identifying our responsibilities on the job. It is amazing that government agencies do not always do this. One process we implemented was the "balanced scorecard," a way to track our open action items on any deficiencies found in our department. Irregularities were rated as to importance, given a time frame for completion, and issued deadlines for follow-up on any outstanding issues.

Regarding the number of serious action items in the referenced government report, it would be interesting to know if any follow-up resulted from the observations.

U.S. Department of State Activities

Representatives from the Bureau of Consular Affairs and Public Affairs respond to questions about passports and travel during a Spanish-Language Twitter Q&A in Washington, D.C.October 15, 2015
Representatives from the Bureau of Consular Affairs and Public Affairs respond to questions about passports and travel during a Spanish-Language Twitter Q&A in Washington, D.C.October 15, 2015 | Source

Most purchasing agents in the public sector are expected to do competitive bid analysis before any major purchase. Comparison of cost between the suppliers who sell the same product is key to ensure that the lowest overall cost is determined before goods or services are purchased.

The lowest price may not represent the lowest total cost. To get a true evaluation of the lowest overall cost requires a thorough study of all the fine print of a contract for purchase. In the case of the State Department, the report found that this process was often overlooked.

Former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III stands by the chair he used as a Cabinet officer - lined with brass plates for each office he held - after he welcomed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to his private office on April 26, 2016.
Former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III stands by the chair he used as a Cabinet officer - lined with brass plates for each office he held - after he welcomed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to his private office on April 26, 2016. | Source

Low Morale in Government Positions

Some of the many factors behind low bureau morale include cramped office space and lack of privacy, evidence of favoritism in hiring, pressure from senior management (including the Assistant Secretary and deputies) to bend, force, or evade Department regulations and hire favored candidates, a hostile work environment, and even fear of retribution from senior management.

In response to a questionnaire, "survey results reflected lower than normal morale among bureau staff, in terms of both personal and office morale."

Where Does the Money Go?

Key factors for overspending in the department revolve around the fact that the CSO lacks a sound travel policy. This is a basic rule for effective operating in any cost effective business.

The CSO has no consistent method of determining where it will engage with their programs varying from efforts "to enhance civilian security by reducing violent crime" in the Honduras to "landmine eradication to promote reconciliation and peace" in Burma. Assigned personnel "made 58 trips to Honduras, staying there 2,837 days at a cost of approximately $450,000," out of a budget of $2 million dollars. Observations are that travel to conferences, especially to Europe, appears to be linked more to personal interests than to the bureau’s mission.

"In Kenya, the CSO deployed a team in advance of the March 2013 elections in an effort to prevent a repeat of the violence that surrounded elections in 2007-2008." The US is attempting to prevent violence during elections in other countries? We might ask why.

"In Nigeria, CSO estimates that its anti-violence program in the Niger Delta region will cost $5.6 million." That money comes from revenue US citizens paid via their income taxes.

Beyond the excesses in travel cost, according to the report, "Several Department offices and other agencies work on issues similar to CSO’s," meaning efforts are duplicated by different departments.

Mission - The primary responsibility of the U.S. Department of State and its employees is to fight terrorism, protect U.S. interests abroad, and implement foreign policy initiatives while building a freer, prosperous and secure world. 2

Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO)

But indications of unnecessary travel by personnel and single bid awards of governmental spending without proper competitive analysis are not the only issues at hand. The way the staff and prospective new hires feel about their jobs and their bosses is also of concern.

The report indicates, "The perceived CSO attitude that it does not have to follow ... rules is cited by some bureaus and ambassadors as reasons they seek to avoid working with CSO. The Assistant Secretary needs to lead by example and ensure that the deputies do the same."

Travel Budgets


Other Issues of Concern

  • CSO lacks an effective records management program.
  • CSO does not have a uniform process for the storage and organization of files.
  • CSO has not followed Department procedures for drafting, clearing and documenting policymakers’ decisions on important issues.
  • The OIG team found weaknesses in contractor oversight, security clearance, performance of inherently governmental functions, and incomplete contracting officer’s representative files
  • Inadequate monitoring increases the risk of fraud, the receipt of poor quality services, and the possibility of over-payments to contractors.
  • Contracting officer’s representatives keep emails and other materials on their personal computers instead of using shared drives or paper files.
  • There is confusion within CSO and in the Department on the management reporting structure among CSO’s IT staff.
  • The absence of a full-time, experienced IT manager has hindered the IT staff’s ability to address deficiencies that have lingered for more than 2 years.
  • The position descriptions of the full-time IT staff members and IT contractors do not reflect their current responsibilities.
  • CSO’s IT group lacks basic information management and security documentation including standard operating procedures, such as access control policies, account creation and email setup procedures, system backup and restore policies

The report is forty-six (46) pages of information on disparities, redundancies and inept practices within this one of many departmental government agencies. This department in itself controls a budget of over sixty-five billion, nine hundred million dollars ($65,900,000,000). The ineptitude and waste multiplies exponentially on a larger scale. This is only the tip of an enormous iceberg of governmental misuse of our tax dollars.

© 2017 Peg Cole


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    • profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 8 months ago


      This was fascinating reading, a little 'snapshot' of the workings of a government department.

      I think the situation is pretty much the same in every country, but there's one big difference between the big multi billion dollar corporation and government, that is in most democratic countries government can change, and with it the ideals and goals of the people 'at the top'

      With a corporate, change a CEO and you've still got the same board of directors! The vision and goals change much slower, with a change of government the whole lot changes overnight!

      Even here in NZ we see that all the time.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 9 months ago from Nashville Tn.

      Government spending reports depress me. :) The government depresses me even more. You've shared some important research here Peg. Run for office my friend - you're just what we need!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 9 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for sharing this report. Little sense of responsibility and commitment, as long as those who have the job get their cut of the gains. The rest of us just scratch our heads.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 9 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Martie, I've been following your reports on the government escapades in your country. It seems this is a world-wide epidemic. Sad to see the actual numbers and the waste when we consider that our elders have not had an increase in their social security pensions in three years. The government spends without restraint on wasteful things and supports people who have never contributed to the coffers. It makes no sense to me.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 9 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello Maria, Thank you for the kind words. It's often a rude awakening to study government reports. I appreciate you reading this.

    • Happylovejoy profile image

      Kawai 9 months ago from Singapore

      What is listed are pretty much issues faced by a lot of companies, but of course the impact is closer to heart when it comes to taxpayers money. Thanks for the interesting insight.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 9 months ago from South Africa

      Maladministration, corruption, racketeering, seem to be a disease among politicians all over the world. Thanks to South Africa's relentless opposition parties and media, one after another corrupt soul is being exposed and taken to court. Our president fear the end of his term, as he may be sent straight to jail by the fist bench of judges appointed to hear his seven-hundred-and-something charges with corruption.

      Very interesting read for me, being addicted to politics.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 9 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Genna, Thank you for the keen observations and comments. I found this to be the case in the private sector as well, despite all efforts by people who actually cared about expenditures and following the rules. Spending was erratic and unnecessary in many areas, yet, when it came to layoffs, they used the bottom line as an excuse to cut heads.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 9 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello Mckbirdbks, It's doubtful that I would pass the muster when it comes to a job in government. Too many skeletons in the closet. But thanks for the encouragement and positive response to this article. Good to see you today.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 9 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      "This is only the tip of an enormous iceberg of governmental misuse of our tax dollars."

      You have tackled a tough subject with detail and objectivity. Like Mike, I would cast my vote for you every time. Hugs, Maria

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 9 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Excellent article, Peg. You will find this at nearly every level of government in this country. I think citizens should, at first, delve into their local and state governments. In more than a few instances, they will be shocked to discover the degree of mismanagement, lack of effective oversight, inefficient utilization of resources, etc. I also agree with Bill. They first have to turn off their TV sets for a couple of hours each day in order to invest the necessary time, and be prepared for disillusionment over the results of their findings. But at least they would be involved. Happy New Year. :-)

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 9 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Peg Cole for Congress. !!!! Like Bill said, plenty of tough research here.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 9 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thanks for stopping in so quickly, Bill. You're right. Most citizens don't want to know the inner workings of government. They just want to believe that all is well and go on about their business. The truth hurts too much.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Nice research, Peg. I think there are a number of reasons why most citizens do not know where the government spending, it takes too much work for them to find out, thus interfering with them watching Dancing With Stars, and two, it would depress them too much if they actually knew.