Friday Rant: Line Item Detail Lost in DC

First it was the Pentagon that failed to provide line-item (let alone high-level categorization) detail for billions of dollars in spend. OK, in the high-stakes world of men in black -- not to mention given the rising costs for water and wood due to cap and trade for waterboarding -- perhaps this is excusable. But now it's your everyday congress person who would prefer that you not submit their spend to an auto classification system. A recent Wall Street Journal article provides some insights that you probably don't want to know, such as the fact that "House and Senate lawmakers are given an annual allowance of $1.3 million to $4.5 million to run their office".

The Senate is notorious for providing only rudimentary insights into where this pile of cash is going, filing expenses that fall "into generic categories such as 'purchased equipment' and payments often listed as going to banks or other intermediaries". It would be one thing if all this spending was essential in its current format. But the lack of visibility creates fewer opportunities for leverage and savings.

Consider how 130 members of congress "spent $82,000 each month leasing cars for their offices in 2007, according to a Taxpayers for Common Sense analysis. The average office spent $640 a month on leases that year." But since Congressional members are only allowed to "sign leases for the duration of their term of office" of two years, they're paying significantly higher monthly amounts than if they could commit to a longer lease program.

So what about aggregating this spend and creating pooled cars and trucks over a longer lease period? Greater visibility would be the first step to not only creating transparency, but could drive actual savings without impacting the ability of your trusty Congressman to get from Point A to Point B. It might also cut down on the costs for such big ticket personal purchases as "committee chairmen gavels" for $78 dollars a piece and "walnut nameplates" for $1,829. Methinks this is not the China -- or even the Kansas -- price for these items.

Jason Busch

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