September 05, 2003

Waste, Fraud, Abuse, and Innumeracy

TAPPED directs us to Roger Ailes who finds that Andrew Sullivan has found $60 trillion a year of waste, fraud, and abuse in federal consultant contracts. Pretty remarkable to discover that waste, fraud, and abuse amounts to 30 times the entire federal budget.

Innumeracy is indeed a terrible thing: Who was it who said, "What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is"?

Roger Ailes: Sully and Sullibility One of my favorite Andrew Sullivan bits is where Sully prints anonymous e-mails as though they contain the truth. Here's a good one today:

In the early 1990's, I watched a good friend of mine grab a 600 grand a year 'grant' from her friend, and fellow JFK Schooler, in the EPA. For the next ten years, my friend got 600 grand annually, (disbursed thru Las Vegas, aptly enough) for doing ... absolutely nothing. I mean nothing.

At the end of ten years, my friend had spent all the money, and had produced a series of annual reports, each one approximately 40 pages long, filled with pseudo-scientific booshwah so ridiculous that even her friends couldn't help smirking when they read it.

$600,000 times 10 is $6,000,000. That's a pretty big chunk o' change. Shocking!

70 percent of the money was spent flying to 'conferences' with other JFK grantors (always in gorgeous locales) where they gave 'papers' and mostly networked with each other to find more grants.

70 percent of $6 million is $4.2 million. That's some mad expensive airfare! It must have been first class and then some!

I know this sounds like miniscule potatoes - but multiply this 100,000 times, and over a thousand agencies... And she was never listed as a Federal employee!

$6 million times 100,000 times 1,000 -- that's $600,000,000,000,000! Damn, that's a ... uh ... a ... lot of money!

For the good of the country, Sully needs to forward this courageous e-mail to the White House, every member of Congress and every major news organization today! You've blown this scandal wide open, Sully -- now run with it!!!

Posted by DeLong at September 5, 2003 05:56 PM | TrackBack


Brad, you missed a zero at the start of this post: Ailes says $600 trillion, not $60 trillion.

Posted by: John Isbell on September 5, 2003 08:15 PM

John, the $600 trillion figure is for 10 years of Fraud & Abuse. Brad is correctly speaking about "$60 trillion a year".

Posted by: Emmanuel on September 5, 2003 10:01 PM

They must be counting the waste, fraud, and abuse in federal consultant contracts in Iraq.

Posted by: Andrew Boucher on September 5, 2003 10:06 PM

And probably underestimating it.

Posted by: Barry on September 6, 2003 05:53 AM

Sullivan gets no credit with you guys for suggesting that the Bush/Republicans are
equally guilty, (whatever the amount) to Kennedy/Democrats?

This kind of innumeracy is the sort of thing
the "Glenn Commission", (ex-Senator John Glenn),
was commissioned to address in the late 1990's.
I admire Glenn irrationally, (early conditioning by _LIFE_ magazine) and had (orbitally) high hopes of seeing specific concrete recommendations from the panel of highly qualified, highly paid, experts who had been assembled (THREE TIMES, each time in posh venues for LONG weekends) to address the issue of teaching simple math to simple minds.

When the final results were published, (months later than scheduled and promised) I felt highly (cis-lunar-ly? ) betrayed. What an expense for such a load of self-evident platitudes.

This, one project I happened to follow.

Makes me wonder about summits of economists held at Jackson's Hole -- who pays, how much, and for what results. (surely a bad example... I bet NOBODY got ANY gov't money for such a thing.)
It also leaves me emotionally pre-disposed to accept the sort of claim Sullivan makes before and without engaging my math circuits.

But even AFTER having such circuitry fired up,
I'm left with the nagging feeling he's probably not lying about the original anecdote; nor is he wrong in attempting (however ineptly) to generalize the singular anecdote into a trend.

What would be a COMPETENT estimate, o respected government economist?

Say the $600K / yr is atypical -- that a typical grant is only one-tenth that?

Say that instead of 70% "wasted " on conference travel, that merely a third was so spent?

Say instead of 100,000 such grants that only
10,000 such scholars are supported?

That would be 18 Million a year in airlifting politically connected grant-ees to posh locations for smoozing. Is that anywhere close to a realistic figure?

I SUPPOSE this could be justified as a subsidy to the struggling airlines and resort industries...

Posted by: Pouncer on September 6, 2003 10:13 AM

Thanks, Emmanuel, you can see why I'm not an economist. I did once win a chess game against the England Under-19 chess champion, though. I won't go into context.

Posted by: John Isbell on September 6, 2003 11:56 AM
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