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Blog Posted in avatar   Michael F. van Breda's Blog

Sixty billion wasted dollars

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By Michael F. van Breda
Posted Aug 31, 2011 in Politics
Associated Press reports today (August 31st, 2011) that the Commission on Wartime Spending will report to Congress, which commissioned it, that up to $60 billion has been misspent in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. Unfortunately, this amounts to little more than a rounding error in a government whose spending runs into the trillions of dollars.
It does, however, point out one important fact. All Americans, literally all Americans regardless of political persuasion, should be united in rooting out fraud and waste in spending. The goal for each of us should be efficient and effective spending of the tax dollars that we entrust to our government. We may disagree and disagree strongly on whether National Public Radio, say, is a good use of money but on one thing we should all be clear. Whatever money is given to that cause, whatever money is spent on wars in Afghanistan, whatever money is spent on Medicare and Medicaid should be spent wisely.
Politicians and those who follow politics may argue about where money should be spent. We all have an interest in ensuring that there is strong oversight of whatever does get spent and that it be the result of good planning.
Unfortunately, ensuring good planning and strong oversight lacks sex appeal. Banner headlines in the paper about government waste make for good reading and allow the opposition party to posture. But doing anything for real about a real problem requires us to roll up our sleeves and get going on some pretty nitty-gritty stuff. We make fun of the accountants with their green eyeshades but these are the folks that we need — and the folks who are currently letting the rest of us down.
Good planning and strong oversight also often means spending money now to ensure that less money gets spent in the future. I make the point in “Balancing the (operating) budget” that we need to distinguish between operating expenses and investment expenses. Here is a case in point. It might cost us a few extra millions this year to appoint additional auditors but if that saves us a few billions in the next few years then that is money well spent. By trying to balance the total budget we lose sight of the huge savings that we could be making in years ahead.
Bottom line: Balance the operating budget, make wise investments, and then watch the actual spending.

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