Secret Service scandal shows every department needs reform

Recently, controversy has erupted, as the Secret Service allowed an intruder to run past the locked gates and security barricades and run all the way into the White House — eventually being tackled only by an off-duty officer. This follows a 2011 incident in which the Secret Service was unaware for some time that gunshots had made contact with a wall of the White House.

This latest story will continue to evolve, and it’s safe to say we don’t know all the facts — and perhaps never will. But this story reminds us that even the most crucial and respected departments (or perhaps especially those agencies) must be scrutinized and reformed with an eye toward efficiency and good practices, not just throwing more money their way.

Often, unfortunately, National Security-related agencies or the Pentagon are placed on a pedestal, away from attempts to pass necessary reforms.

The Secret Service, which had a $1.6 billion budget in FY2013, is now getting what some call a long-overdue second look. Three high-profile scandals within the last three years have shone light on the fact that there were a startling 824 cases between 2004 and 2013 in which officials were cited for misconduct. The Secret Service’s reputation of being “invincible” is hardly accurate.

Regardless of what comes of this specific scandal, or even of the Secret Service in general, one thing is clear: there are no invincible government departments. The more we think there are, the less accountability, efficiency, cost-savings, and effectiveness there will to be had.

Some people would like to pretend that the more crucial a department is, the more impervious it should be to criticism and reform. But in fact, the opposite is true. We have to demand reform of our most important departments. We can’t afford not to.

Funding football: On our dime

Welfare for Millionaires-1In a time of multiple national scandals, you might be surprised to learn that your tax dollars have been pouring into the same prosperous — and troubled — institution that has been making headlines recently.

Yet the Washington Times revealed last week that exactly that situation has been occurring. Taxpayers have spent billions financing NFL stadiums — and despite lofty promises of economic benefits, “there is little evidence those hefty public expenditures pay off.”

From Bankrupting America, some key findings:

  • Taxpayers In Virginia, D.C. And Maryland Pitched In $70 Million For FedEx Field, The Washington Redskins Stadium.
  • Indiana Residents Pitched In $620 Million, Or $1,866 Per Household Towards The Indianapolis Colts Lucas Oil Stadium.
  • Taxpayers Paid For 100 Percent Of The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Stadium When It Was Built In 1998.
  • Cincinnati-area Residents Paid For 94 Percent OF The Bengals Stadium, While Taxpayers Covered 90 Percent Of The Baltimore Ravens M&T Bank Stadium.
  • In 2016, The Minnesota Vikings Will Be Opening A Stadium Financed With $500 Million In Taxpayer Funds.

Congress prepares to pour billions into Iraq… again

Update: the House approved this plan 256-156 last night.

We thought we had good budget news for a little while.

At least, somewhat good news. As you might remember, Congress couldn’t do its job last year and finish the appropriations process. As a result, it must now pass a continuing resolution, or CR, to fund the government for a set amount of time or until the budget is finished.

The initial CR was to be short term, spend at current levels, and not include other provisions.

But now, Congress is scrambling to respond to the President’s announced plan of further involvement in Iraq given the ongoing chaos in the region because of ISIS, or ISIL, fighters. An amendment to train and fund opposition fighters could be attached to the CR this afternoon.

As others have pointed out, this move raises constitutional questions, since Congress has not authorized or declared a war. There are also reasons to raise an eyebrow at funding so-called “moderate rebels.” But these questions are not for us to take on. Our concern here relates to the price tag.

While the bill, on its face, supposedly rejects adding new funding to cover the estimated $500 million cost, in favor of shuffling money within the CR and allowing foreign governments to pay, the plan could still end up costing millions. The Pentagon has said that 5,000 rebels are to be trained and equipped, costs that could quickly add up — not to mention the thousands of troops already being sent to the region and the nearly inevitable mission creep.

It hasn’t been very long since irresponsible budgeting with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq helped push our deficit and debts to previously unforeseen, sky-high levels. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again.

U.S. to commit $500 million to fight Ebola

The Ebola outbreak is undoubtedly a crisis, and the level to which the United States ought to get involved is a valid discussion.

However, today we see yet another example of why the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations budget is in need of reform. Critics have rightfully called the OCO budget a “slush fund” because of its common use to skirt budget restrictions and pay for anything and everything. And now? Yet another example of this phenomenon.

Time reports:

On Tuesday, President Obama will announce more efforts by the U.S. to lead a global battle against the spread of the deadly virus.

The United States is dramatically escalating its efforts to combat the spread of Ebola in West Africa, President Barack Obama will announce Tuesday during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The unprecedented response will include the deployment of 3,000 U.S. military forces and more than $500 million in defense spending drawn from funding normally used for efforts like the war in Afghanistan, senior administration officials outlined Monday. Obama has called America’s response to the disease a “national-security priority,” with top foreign policy and defense officials leading the government’s efforts.

Officials said that the Department of Defense is seeking to “reprogram” $500 million in funding from the department’s “overseas contingency operations” fund to assist in the response. Obama has also requested another $88 million from Congress for the U.S. response, including $58 million to expedite the development of experimental treatments for Ebola.

Continuing Resolution: Good and Bad News

In case you missed it, House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers this week introduced a continuing resolution to fund the government (since Congress couldn’t finish doing its job with the budget).

The legislation, H.J.Res.124, continues funding for government programs and services until December 11, 2014, or until Congress finishes the budget appropriations process.

The bill is “clean,” which means no controversial provisions are attached to it.

In several ways, this CR is good news — or at least it’s the best we could have hoped for. It doesn’t quietly hike spending even higher than the Ryan-Murray levels. It stays away from other provisions that could have raised the chances of a worse deal being pushed through at the last minute.

But let’s not forget that this “current cap” is actually far above what legal levels actually are. And since this latest deal goes only until December 11, the worry remains that Members of Congress will be more willing to hike spending during the lame-duck session.

Let’s keep pushing politicians to do the right thing. Finish their job, complete the budget, and don’t break the legal spending caps.

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