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Government Reports: A Look At The Numbers
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 05/07/14

This Congress is expecting to receive 4,291 reports from various government agencies. But a new feature in The Washington Post shows that lawmakers will actually read very few of them, if they are even written at all.

The story in The Post traces the long history of U.S. government reports, from the Mint’s annual update that began in 1792 to the 2000 law that required a briefing on the latest developments in dog and cat fur trading. Even in 1928, when there were only 303 reports to keep track of, legislators complained about the volume of reports they were sent every year.

Fast-forward a few decades and thousands of reporting requirements later, and many lawmakers and government employees have stopped reading and writing the reports altogether. Their inability to keep track of – let alone read and devote appropriate attention to – the reports is an instance of transparency and accountability gone awry, in that while many of the reports were intended to offer additional layers of oversight to government programs, they've become so numerous and overwhelming that the full benefits can simply become lost in the shuffle. One former staffer recounted to The Post how some of the thicker reports were literally used as doorstops, unread and disregarded.

The reporting carries a significant cost, both in man-hours and dollars. Although nobody can say for sure how much money is spent producing the reports each year, the last estimate made in 1993 projects it's somewhere in the neighborhood of $163 million. Combined with the fact that some of the reports are so narrowly focused (the Social Security Administration's report on printing operations) or outdated (The Post identified two required briefings on the long-since-dissolved Soviet Union), many in Washington are calling for an end to some of the more irrelevant or wasteful ones. In 2012, The White House compiled a list of 269 reports it wanted to eliminate; the House passed a bill recently that nixed 79 of them.

Although transparency and accountability are noble goals, the story in The Post shows that when it comes to government reporting requirements, there is a fine line between oversight and distraction.

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The Expensive Saga of the F-35 w/ Wendy Jordan of Taxpayers for Common Sense - Speaking of Taxpayers, May 2
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 05/06/14

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Wendy Jordan of Taxpayers for Common Sense joins the podcast to discuss their new report on just how much the F-35 weapons program has cost you. Pete & Doug review the latest taxpayer news - and as always the Outrage of the Week!

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(VIDEO) End Ex-Im Capitol Hill Event - On Capitol Hill, May 6
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 05/06/14

Watch the Export-Import Bank take punches from many of the 30 groups opposing its reauthorization at yesterday's event organized by Americans for Prosperity. National Taxpayers Union's Nan Swift begins at 14:04.

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: Ending EPA Research?
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 05/05/14

Taxpayer's Tab Update

Did you know the EPA spent over $773 million on environmental research last year?

The agency may be known for its regulations and enforcement, but it also spends a lot of time conducting experiments on how to improve air quality, reduce pollution, and mitigate climate change. In this week's edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF featured one particular bill from Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) that would put a stop to those activities altogether. Rep. Salmon introduced H.R. 4482 as part of his "Shrink Our Spending" initiative, a series of bills that would end government programs that his office claims are duplicative or inefficient. If enacted, Rep. Salmon's bill would end funding for the EPA's scientific research & development programs, reducing spending by about $766 million.

We also highlighted some other environmentally-focused legislation in this week's edition of The Tab:

  • Most Expensive: Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced H.R. 3449/S. 1677 in their respective Chambers. The Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure Act would fund research related to reducing the effects of stormwater runoff, which both lawmakers say is a major source of pollution and causes significant environmental damage. The Act would cost taxpayers $350 million per year, a total of $1.4 billion over four years.
  • Wildcard: Recently, the EPA proposed new regulations for wood-burning stoves and furnaces with stricter air pollutant restrictions for manufacturers. Burning wood is a critical means of producing heat for millions of rural families, so Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) introduced H.R. 4407 to stop the potentially costly regulations from taking effect.

For more on these bills and to see what NTUF's been up to lately (and where our research is showing up), check out the latest edition of The Tab online.

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“Ex-Im Bank is Corporate Welfare Program that should be Ended Immediately”
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 05/05/14


This afternoon, NTU's Nan Swift joined many of our 30 partners in the effort to prevent the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) on Capitol Hill for an impressive show of solidarity.

Speakers from 11 different organizations spoke, highlighting the need to put an end to the Ex-Im Bank and urging action now.

Ex-Im took a beating from all angles, absorbing critiques of its opaque bookkeeping - which obscures its true costs to taxpayers - incestuous relationships with companies that benefit from its loans, the damage it causes to less politically-connected U.S. companies, and more.

NTU Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift called Ex-Im “an anachronistic corporate welfare program that should be ended immediately," and added: “The federal government shouldn’t be propping up direct competitors for U.S. products using taxpayer-backed credit.”

Nan also hammered Ex-Im for the hypocritical situation that has the bank supporting foreign Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) production in territories to which U.S. gas companies may be prohibited from exporting:

“Robust competition and free trade dictate that competitors to U.S. natural gas will and should develop their own energy resources. But the federal government shouldn’t be propping up direct competitors for U.S. products using taxpayer-backed credit - Not when our own producers are not allowed to compete on that playing field.”

Check out all of NTU's work to bring light to this dark financial entity HERE.

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On Capitol Hill, April 30, 2014: DATA Act passes, Appropriations, Min. Wage is Back
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 04/30/14

Congress has returned from a two-week recess and is back to spending (or hopefully saving) your tax dollars. Intrepid NTU Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift has the inside scoop on what exactly they are up to...

This week, the appropriations process has started, the Senate looks at Minimum Wage - and the DATA Act heads to the President's desk.

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Presidential Choppers Get an Upgrade
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/29/14

You've probably seen plenty of photographs of Marine One, the President's specially outfitted Naval helicopter, taking off from the South Lawn of the White House and soaring over D.C. to wherever the Chief Executive's destination may be that day. But did you know that there are 19 of those choppers, and even after $3.2 billion worth of investment, they're still in need of upgrades?

That's the story being published by The Washington Post, which reports that the Navy is close to awarding a contract to upgrade the President's fleet of choppers (some of which are more than 40 years old). The job never got done last time because costs quickly escalated beyond what the government was willing to pay, forcing the Pentagon to cancel its purchasing plans in 2009 just after President Obama took office.

The program has only just begun, but already some defense specialists have some concerns:

"There appears to be only one bid on the project - led by the company that lost out last time - and some fear that the lack of competition could again lead to escalating costs. Another red flag: The Defense Department granted the Navy a waiver saying that bidders don't have to build prototypes, which can help to reduce cost and risks. ... While declining to provide a cost for the program, [the Navy] said it would be "significantly less" than the $13 billion price tag it reached before the previous contract was canceled. The first helicopters could be available by the end of 2020 "if everything goes ideally," [they] said."

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently defended the Navy's decision to not require a prototype, stating in a report that the costs to provide them would exceed any savings they might generate. Navy officials say they have done "due diligence" to ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget, with a focus on existing and proven technology. However, some lawmakers and defense watchdogs are worried that once the project begins, there would be nothing stopping the winning bidder from scaling up the scope of the construction plans beyond an initially proposed budget. As John Pike of put it to The Post, "[the contractor] will sell you as much helicopter as you're willing to pay for. And nothing is too good for the president."

The Navy is expected to announce the winning bidder within a few weeks, although officials would not comment on how many applications it had received for the project. It remains to be seen whether the Pentagon can learn from its past mistakes and keep the new process as open and transparent as it claims it will.

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Article V Convention Process, Scott Rogers of the BBA Task Force - Speaking of Taxpayers, April 25
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 04/28/14

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Pete explains why IRS "Free File" is a terrible deal for taxpayers; and Scott Rogers, Executive Director of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force joins us to talk about the Article V movement, its tremendous momentum, and how the process works. Plus, the Outrage of the Week!

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When Pensions & Demographics Collide
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/28/14

This month in The Economist, an analysis of China's state-run pension system shows why long-term trends matter just as much as -- if not more than -- short-term availability of funding for retirement benefits.

Chinese officials in the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security reported a 3.1 trillion yuan ($500 billion) surplus in the nation's pension funds at the end of 2013. However, that rosy outlook could change soon as China's population continues to age and the proportion of working-age citizens falls. China's retirement age is still 53 years, a level set about six decades ago when the average life expectancy was only 45 (it's not nearly 75); and while 9 percent of the population is over the age of 65 now, that number is projected to jump dramatically to 24 percent by 2050. That means pension deficits will likely appear by 2030 and could total 90% of GDP by 2050.

The looming crisis has Chinese officials considering an adjustment to the national retirement age; polls show 70 percent of the population would oppose that decision, but it's long overdue if China expects to keep the promises it's made to workers.

The graphic below, courtesy of The Economist, illustrates the problem:

chinese pensions

The fiscal impact of demographic shifts is being felt here in America, too: as the population ages and fewer workers are contributing to health and retirement costs, entitlement spending is making up a larger proportion of the federal debt. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that by 2029, more than 11,000 baby boomers will reach the retirement age every day, and nearly 20 percent of the population will be 65 years or older. GAO describes the growth in health and retirement spending as "unsustainable" and projects that it will "limit the federal government's flexibility to address future challenges.

When it comes to retirement benefits, demographic shifts could soon force governments to act on reform whether they want to or not.

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: Defunding the NLRB
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/27/14

Taxpayer's Tab Update

Student athletes on Northwestern University's football team recently voted on whether or not to unionize, an unprecedented move that could have far-reaching effects in the world of college athletics and how major schools' programs are financed. The decision that set the legal process in motion was made in February, after a Chicago branch of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in the players' favor and affirmed that the student athletescould be considered university employees.

In this week's edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF examined the role of the NLRB and a bill that proposes to strip away its federal funding. That bill -- H.R. 4379, introduced by Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) -- would save $264 million, the total amount that the Office of Management and Budget says the NLRB will spend this year.

Also featured in this week's Tab:

  • Most Expensive: H.R. 4384/S. 2115, the America HEALS Act, would create a mandatory funding stream for various biomedical research programs, guaranteeing 5 percent growth in those areas every year. The bill was introduced by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and would cost about $11.5 billion per year on average over the next five years.
  • Wildcard: Congressman Reid Ribble (R-WI) introduced the Long-Term SCORE Act, which would create a new department within the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) dedicated exclusively to producing long-term cost estimates beyond the current 10-year standard. H.R. 4444 would require an additional $5 million per year.

Check out The Tab online for more on these bills and NTUF's other recent work.

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