The Government Accountability Office (GAO) monitors government spending. It has a lot to monitor.
Of course, it cannot monitor more than a tiny fraction of the money that flows through Washington.
How about this tidbit? The U.S. Department of Agriculture makes direct payments to farmers. In an 8-year period, 2003 to 2011, the USDA handed out $46 billion. The farmers planted crops in terms of what the USDA required, not what customers wanted.
The GAO published this utterly incoherent summary of what happened, proving that the GAO is a government agency.
Cumulatively, USDA paid $10.6 billion—almost one-fourth of total direct payments made from 2003 through 2011—to producers who did not, in a given year, grow the crop associated with their qualifying acres, which they are allowed to do. About 2,300 farms (0.15 percent of farms receiving direct payments) reported all their land as “fallow,” and producers did not plant any crops on this land for each year for the last 5 years, from 2007 through 2011; in 2011, these producers received almost $3 million in direct payments.
With writing like this, the GAO is not going to get its story onto the evening news shows. You have to go to college to learn how to write like this. But the writer was just getting started.
Direct payments generally do not align with the principles significant to integrity, effectiveness, and efficiency in farm bill programs that GAO identified in an April 2012 report. These payments align with the principle of being “distinctive,” in that they do not overlap or duplicate other farm programs. However, direct payments do not align with five other principles.
The report went on like this for 57 pages.
The summary explained: “Why GAO Did This Study.” Answers: (1) to fill space; (2) to justify being paid. But not, surely, to make anyone upset. People do not read anything this badly written, so no one gets upset.
Through one facet of the farm safety net, USDA provides farmers and other producers with fixed annual payments, called direct payments, based on their farms’ historical crop production. Direct payments do not vary with crop prices or crop yields. In March 2011, GAO reported on observations and options regarding direct payments and suggested to Congress that they be eliminated or reduced. GAO was asked (1) to provide information regarding the geographic distribution and ownership characteristics of payment recipients, as well as the dollar amount of direct payments made for farms with acreage that qualified, and the amount and types of crops grown on such acreage for years 2003 to 2011, and (2) to examine whether direct payments are aligned with principles significant to integrity, effectiveness, and efficiency in farm bill programs. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed USDA data and interviewed agency officials.
It added: “What GAO Recommends.” The GAO recommends tinkering, not outright abolition of the payments.
Congress authorizes spending. The bureaucracies roll on and on, spending like there is no tomorrow. But there will be tomorrow: a Great Default. Congress doesn’t believe this.
Congress should consider eliminating or reducing direct payments. GAO also recommends that USDA take four actions to improve its oversight of direct payments including developing a systematic process to report on land that may no longer be usable for agriculture, and considering ways to increase the number of cases selected for end-of-year reviews and completing these reviews in a timely manner. USDA generally agreed with two of GAO’s recommendations and disagreed with two others, stating that it believes its current processes or practices are adequate. GAO continues to believe that it is important for USDA to take the recommended actions.
Until the government goes bankrupt, none of this will stop. The government is spending us blind. With a $1.2 trillion deficit this year, Congress will not stop.