3 Stories About Government Spending That You Have to Read to Believe


As Congress once again debates a government budget for fiscal year 2014, it seems like an opportune time to examine some of the government's past expenditures and how they relate to millennials. While most of today's young people have little knowledge of what is actually in the government's budget from year to year, the items being purchased and funded are hugely important to our future. In October 2012, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released "Wastebook 2012," a document highlighting various programs and initiatives by the government that were either incomplete or wholly unnecessary. These programs are mostly obscure to the general public, but I can assure you, these are programs that today's young people will find totally inessential.

In 2009 the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) began searching for ways to improve the economic competitiveness of Morocco. It came up with a four-year plan, a key part of which encouraged Moroccans to create and sell pottery in domestic and international markets. Twenty-seven million dollars were given to the program. An American pottery instructor was contracted to go to Morocco and give several weeks of classes. However, the translator who accompanied him was not fluent in English and could not properly translate the classes for the participants. The participants were also frustrated by the materials — those brought by the instructor and used in class were not readily available in Morocco, making it impossible for the people to replicate what they learned once the class was over. The response given in exchange for the huge sum spent on the program was also minimal: In one class, organizers reported about 56 people signed in, but were told that only 10 or so actually came for the class. The others signed in just to get the free lunch.

You know all those pennies that pile up in the bottom of your pocket or purse? Each of those pennies cost much more to produce than it is actually worth. Compared to the one-cent value of your penny, it cost 2.4 cents to produce. The cost of producing 5 billion pennies in 2012 cost the Treasury Department about $120 million. After selling the pennies at face value to the Federal Reserve, the Treasury lost more than $70 million. If production is costing so much, why do we still produce the penny?

In January 2012, the federal government announced plans to build a new 600,000 square foot courthouse in downtown Los Angeles at a cost of $322 million. Both residents and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) agreed that the new courthouse is unnecessary and a huge burden on residents when the city's finances are already tight. Between fiscal years 2001 and 2005, $400 million was allocated to the program and by 2008 the estimated cost had skyrocketed to $1.1 billion. With many residents and review offices opposing its completion, why was the courthouse still being funded?

The answer to that last question comes when one considers what our politics has largely become: a competition to see which politician can gain more money for his or her pet projects. The people's hard-earned money has become indispensable to the folks who view it as an unlimited credit card. Young people especially feel the effects of their money being wasted by bureaucrats, as it takes away temporary security and long-term success. Millennials don't care about courthouses in downtown Los Angeles or pottery classes for Moroccans—  they care about jobs. They care about themselves and their families being taken care of. Such wasteful programs hardly accomplish those wishes.