Government Waste Gets a New Warrior
Policy + Politics

Government Waste Gets a New Warrior


Before he retired and left Washington in January, former Sen. Tom Coburn released an annual “Wastebook” report highlighting what he deemed to be the most egregious examples of government waste each year.

When it came to government agencies, Coburn’s Wastebook took no prisoners. He’d target overlapping government programs, science research he categorized as frivolous, and agencies he thought do not serve a useful purpose at all. His last report identified $25 Billion in potential government waste.

Related: Coburn’s 2014 Wastebook: A $25 Billion Taxpayer Loss

Now, just months after Coburn left Washington, another Oklahoma lawmaker/warrior is attempting to keep the former Senator’s efforts alive.

Republican Rep. Steve Russell, a freshman from Oklahoma’s Fifth district, is a retired lieutenant colonel who served 21 years in the Army where he helped capture Saddam Hussein during the Iraq war.

In his new role as a representative, he’s taking on a new target—government waste. On Tuesday, Russell released the first edition of his own waste report called “Waste Watch,” which identifies 10 areas of the government that he classifies as wasteful tax dollars.

“In the spirit of Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, and in the hope of reinforcing his legacy, the report identifies ten specific instances of government waste and mismanagement from recent years,” Russell said. “Waste Watch No. 1 is the first in an ongoing series aimed at improving the government’s management of the taxpayer’s money.”

Related: Auditors Say Feds Needlessly Wasted $43 Billion

Russell, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said he “intends to scrutinize all areas of the federal budget.”

His first report identifies $117 million across the federal government including a Defense Department project at the Missile Defense Agency that went $11 million over budget, and several projects in Afghanistan that ended up being scrapped because they weren’t built properly.

The report also targets the U.S. Agency for International Development for awarding a nonprofit contractor—the International Relief and Development (IRD), an upwards of $1.1 billion, which it used to throw lavish parties at the taxpayers’ expense.

“These functions occurred at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While IRD was supposed to be helping Iraqi and Afghan citizens reconstruct their lives, they were throwing parties like something from The Great Gatsby and charging it to Uncle Sam,” the report said.

The report also includes $100 million the State Department provided to the Afghanistan government in 2014 to help them cover a budget shortfall. The report paints this as a bailout and suggests that the State Department has never given a satisfactory reason for providing this money.

Related: 5 Most Egregious Examples of Government Waste This Year

Many of the items in Russell’s report come from the Defense Department, which is routinely criticized for wasteful spending. This isn’t surprising, giving his military background.

In the report, he vowed to "find alternate ways to restrain spending both in the DOD and throughout the government."

His “Waste Watch” also targets the usual suspects routinely found in Coburn’s “Wastebook,” including the Social Security Administration that was recently flagged for including about 6.5 million Americans deceased people (older than 112) in their records identified as still living.

The report explains that those records (plagued with blatant inaccuracies) are relied upon to verify who will be receiving some of the government’s largest benefit programs. If there are errors in the system, billions of dollars in benefits could be vulnerable to waste and fraud.

In the report, Russell says that his “Waste Watch” is meant to prompt discussion and action among lawmakers to ramp up oversight of the programs he identifies, in order to save millions of tax dollars that fly out the window each year.

“For the most part, this money has already been wasted. However, each item points to larger, ongoing issues that merit further oversight, investigation, or action by Congress in order to protect taxpayer money,” Russell said in the report. “Due to my 21-year background in the Army, most of the articles relate to defense and foreign policy—but I intend to scrutinize all areas of the federal budget. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to dig into these and other issues to identify ways to save taxpayer money.”

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: