Tom Schatz is the President of Citizens Against Government Waste, a non-profit, non-partisan group focused on the admirable and unending task of reducing wasteful spending and inefficiencies by the U.S. Government. (CAGW was borne out of the Grace Commission). I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Schatz on government waste as well as touching on recent events and the question of universal or government healthcare.
What is the single biggest or most egregious example of government waste you've uncovered?
The most egregious example of wasteful spending would be the pork-barrel projects, or earmarks, that members of Congress add to spending bills every year. Since 1991, Citizens Against Government Waste has issued the Congressional Pig Book, a compilation of all of the pork in the annual appropriations bills. The most outrageous examples receive the “Oinker Award.” They include “The Soaking the Taxpayers Award” in 2004 to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) for $50 million for an indoor rainforest in Coralville, Iowa, “The Flushing our Money Down the Toilet Award” in 2006 to Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) for $1 million for the Waterfree Urinal Conservation Initiative, and the “Tempest in a Teapot Award” in 2006 for $500,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum in Sparta, N.C.
In your experience, is there a particular party at fault for government waste or is government excess a bi-partisan issue?
Both parties are guilty of wasteful spending and failing to take steps to rectify the problem. This is particularly true in regard to the appropriations bills, where members divide the spoils and help themselves by stuffing the bills with pet projects. Historically, the two worst offenders have been Senator Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) and Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), both of whom have brought home more than $1.5 billion in earmarks for their states over the past 10 years.
In terms of wasteful spending by the government, what are your thoughts on the war in Iraq? What about the war in Afghanistan and the larger war on terror?
Once the government decides to do anything, from education to housing to defending the nation, it should do so in the most effective manner. CAGW grew out of the Grace Commission, which helped uncover and expose the $436 hammer and the $640 toilet seat at the Pentagon. The group has a long history of calling for reforms in how the Department of Defense conducts its business, from improving inventory control to adopting compatible accounting and financial systems. CAGW helped uncover and expose the Boeing tanker lease fiasco, which helped save taxpayers $23.5 billion.
In conducting any conflict, or even its day-to-day business, the Pentagon must do a better job in managing and tracking how tax dollars are spent. The same mismanagement that led to no-bid contracts and waste in Afghanistan and Iraq caused billions of dollars to be wasted in responding to Hurricane Katrina. The waste, fraud, and abuse that exists at DOD are evident throughout the government; they are just magnified due to the size and scope of the Pentagon’s expenditures.
In the interest of full disclosure, what are your personal views regarding these wars (understood if you don't want to answer that question)?
I agree with CAGW’s goals of conducting any activity that is authorized by the government in a cost-effective and efficient manner. My concern is less with policy than it is with appropriately managing the expenditure of tax dollars.
Many candidates running for president in '08 on both sides of the aisle are talking about enacting some form of government managed health care. Given your unique view and what you know about government waste thus far, how do you feel about some of these ideas, specifically the plan laid out by Senator Hillary Clinton?
We are aware that most of the Democratic candidates, but not the Republicans, are promoting government-run health care. One could argue about the Massachusetts plan as being “government-run,” and CAGW would have preferred a different plan, but it is still does not provide as much government control over healthcare as the plans being touted by Senators Clinton, Edwards and Obama are proposing.
CAGW has long held that there is too much government involvement in our healthcare system, that it is not even close to a “market” at all and that we ought to be moving toward a system which is consumer and patient-driven and away from the employer-based system, which has led to the over-consumption of healthcare, lots of waste, excessive costs and government micro-management at the federal and state levels.
Regarding Hillary Clinton’s specific plan, it may differ somewhat from those of her primary opponents and from what she proposed as First Lady, but there is enough government control that voters do not see much difference between her and the other senators. Here is a link to a 1998 report we did that expresses the basic principles of real healthcare reform we favor: Wellville Report.
A big thanks to Mr. Schatz for his time. I know I speak for virtually everyone reading this when I say thank you to Tom Schatz and Citizens Against Government Waste for doing a job that is greatly needed, one that can't and won't be done by the government itself. Powered by Sidelines