The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Promoting the Count

It’s always amusing to listen to proponents of big government extol the virtues of this or that existing or proposed Federal program. It doesn’t much matter whether the program focuses on education, health care, transportation, or any of the myriad areas that would be best left to local control, five things are certain to happen:

1) a huge bureaucracy will grow up around the program, precipitating thousands of pages of self-perpetuating regulations;

2) wasteful spending will be the norm, siphoning money away from its original target;

3) enforcement of tight budgetary control will be non-existent, leading to millions of taxpayer dollars being thrown away or parceled out to politically connected contractors,

4) ill-conceived and/or untested programs will be instituted broadly, leading to ineffective execution and still more waste and abuse;

5) a small, dishonest subset of the citizenry will game the regulations in a manner that causes even more waste and abuse.

Let’s consider an upcoming example.

Although it’s not a new big government program, the 2010 Census is representative of big government waste and abuse. Now, no one would argue that the census is necessary. In fact, it’s mandated in the Constitution. But nowhere in that document does it suggest that we allocate $340 million for a promotional blitz to convince people to what? Get counted?

Remember, that’s NOT money required to conduct the census (billions of dollars have been allocated to do just that), that’s money required to promote the census. Why? Do the Feds honestly believe that a schizophrenic, homeless person in San Francisco will see a TV ad in a store window and say, “Gee, maybe I ought to get counted”? Do racial and ethnic minorities ($80 million in promotional money) in Miami need to be convinced that they should fulfill their obligations as US residents, and if they need convincing, might they be better left uncounted? Will TV ads and radio spots really convince them? Do homeowners and apartment dwellers across the country need to be sold on the need to complete a 10-minute census form that arrives in the mail?

Do we really need $340 million dollars to accomplish this? With huge deficits looming and expenditures tight, you’d think that a “promotional budget” might be cut by 20 percent, maybe even 50 percent. But the congress and the federal bureaucracy simply doesn’t care.

I wonder if the Feds have even the slightest clue how many people will be added to the count due to their promotional efforts. Remember, even if the promotion adds 1 million people above those who would have been naturally counted, that costs the taxpayer $340 per person. No worries. Small change … unless it comes out of your pocket. Wait a minute … it does.


As if on queue, the AP reports:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Census Bureau wasted millions of dollars in preparation for its 2010 population count, including thousands of temporary employees who picked up $300 checks without performing work and others who overbilled for travel costs.

Federal investigators caution the excessive charges could multiply once the $15 billion headcount begins in earnest next month unless the agency imposes tighter spending controls, according to excerpts of a forthcoming audit obtained by The Associated Press.