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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wasting green to make stuff "green" 


Your government in action (emphasis added):

The four drafty buildings had been fixtures of the Energy Department complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., for more than half a century. They burned energy like 1950s sedans.

The buildings seemed like perfect candidates for a federal conservation retrofit program that relies on private contractors that receive a percentage of the money they save. A deal was struck in 2001. The contractors reworked lighting and heating systems, among other things, and began collecting payments.

The project was counted among the department's "green" successes -- until auditors discovered that the buildings had been torn down several years ago, and the government had paid $850,000 for energy savings at facilities that no longer existed.

Not at all surprising to those of us who are automatically skeptical of government projects, but still frustrating. The federal government has burdened American free enterprise with a fetish for process control, the idea being that stockholders, who are free to sell their shares, need protection from waste, fraud, and incompetence in public companies. Why do we not demand the same controls from the federal government, whose "stockholders" have no freedom to opt out?

And, yeah, there actually are people, hard as it may be to believe, who think we can cut health care expenses by increasing the government's role.

11 Comments:

By Anonymous Edward Lunny, at Tue Sep 22, 01:28:00 PM:

And, since there is no accountability in government, no one will be punished or reprimanded for flushing all of that money, taxpayer dollars, right down the toilet. These people haven't the competance to a lemonade stand yet are certain that they can repair and/or control healthcare expenditures. They even admit that there are billions in waste and fraud in medicare, but, have made no effort, prior to this year, to solve either the waste or the fraud.  

By Blogger Don Cox, at Tue Sep 22, 02:08:00 PM:

"since there is no accountability in government"

There are elections. If your congressman isn't chasing waste, write and tell him why you will not be voting for him next time.

No, it isn't easy. Parkinson's Law is very powerful.

And the biggest waste of resources in the US may well be the medical insurance companies. How else can you account for the system being so incredibly expensive with such poor results (compared to France, for example)?  

By Anonymous Edward Lunny, at Tue Sep 22, 03:19:00 PM:

" How else can you account for the system being so incredibly expensive with such poor results "....By who's estimation ?

" There are elections." Bureaucrats cannot be replaced by election. The problems with the lack of accountability are not restricted to only elected officials. Civil service rules make it very nearly impossible to fire a government employee, regardless of their incompetence.  

By Blogger Don Cox, at Tue Sep 22, 03:49:00 PM:

"The problems with the lack of accountability are not restricted to only elected officials."

True, but the elected people are supposed to be in control of the permanent staff. Naturally, it is difficult.

However, what we have here is an example of something we have far too much of in Britain. The conventional wisdom is that private business is far more efficient than government; so, many tasks are contracted out to private companies. The companies say "Oh goody goody, a government job, we can double our prices, and take our time." The only answer to this is prompt and expert auditing - and in this case, the auditors did find the problem. But I think they were too slow.

It could well be more efficient to use government employees rather than contractors. Failing that, you need top class auditing.

These are real problems, and they will not be solved by either simple socialism or simple capitalism.

What we all want is the best result for the least money. Auditors are crucial, and the congressmen should put pressure (where necessary) on the auditors.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 22, 03:56:00 PM:

Other governments are worse, just for some perspective.  

By Anonymous Edward Lunny, at Tue Sep 22, 04:58:00 PM:

" Other governments are worse, "...no doubt, no doubt at all. Unfortunately, among government agencies, there is no compelling reason to spend taxpayer dollars honestly, nor efficiently. The current administration has amassed an abysmal record in a record short time. Despite this ,no one has yet been punished. Association with criminal organisations, ala Acorn, is accepted with little comment and less concern. Association with despicable people, rev Wright, Ayers et al, are explained as "misunderstandings" or "unimportant distractions". The dishonest, criminal, an abominable behaviors and associations we know about are very disturbing, those that we do not yet know about are far more troubling.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 22, 07:39:00 PM:

But it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Sep 22, 08:12:00 PM:

Ilya Somin over at Volokh Conspiracy

http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2009_09_13-2009_09_19.shtml#1253404230

has a quote about paternalistic regulation that applies here: "Voters are more ignorant than consumers." Tells you what you need to know.  

By Anonymous Cattle Baron, at Wed Sep 23, 01:08:00 AM:

Dealing with government typically involves all sorts of paperwork. That means there should be records of just about everything.

Wouldn't records indicate the buildings no longer existed? Did anyone in the government even bother to examine the records of the facility in question beforehand?  

By Blogger randian, at Wed Sep 23, 05:17:00 AM:

True, but the elected people are supposed to be in control of the permanent staff.

But that's the genius, you see, of the permanent bureaucracy. The elected people aren't in control.

Back when staff jobs were patronage jobs, everybody on staff got fired when the new boss i.e. a new elected official took over. That meant that you'd better do a good job and make your patron look good, because a pissed off electorate means you're out of a job too.

That being an undesirable state of affairs for the staff, they began a big propaganda campaign about how bad patronage jobs were and how the people would be much better served by a "professional" bureaucratic class that didn't change when elected officials were replaced.

That campaign was successful, and that's why we're where we are today. The permanent bureaucracy is not accountable to anybody, least of all elected officials. Civil service rules make firing anybody nearly impossible, and any elected official who tries to enforce work standards will make the bureaucracy so intransigent that the people will be screaming for the official's head if he doesn't relent and get them back to work.  

By Blogger Don Cox, at Wed Sep 23, 05:33:00 AM:

"That meant that you'd better do a good job and make your patron look good, because a pissed off electorate means you're out of a job too."

If you get the job because you are a friend or relative of the candidate, you are likely to be incapable of doing a good job. We see this in African countries.

Should the roads and bridges department be staffed by qualified and experienced civil engineers, or by the friends of politicians? Should the qualified engineers be left to do the job themselves, or should they be forced by political pressure to contract work out to companies owned by friends of the politicians?
Can the permanent civil servants be prevented from forming a permanent government which resists changes wanted by the electorate, or (what we suffer from in Britain) introduces changes not wanted by the voters?

I don't have answers to these problems. Democracy is hard to do right. But I do think honest and efficient auditing is important.

How do we make sure the auditors check the right things?  

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