(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) Continuing a multi-year battle to save misspent taxpayer dollars, Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa on Tuesday demanded to know why the U.S. Treasury has recovered so little of the money wasted by federal officials from a housing program gone awry.
Grassley long has championed the causes of federal whistleblowers and departmental Inspectors General (IGs). In this case, the Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which was created during the housing/financial crisis late last decade, had unearthed large levels of wrongful spending in the Hardest Hit Fund (HHF), a kitty meant to directly help homeowners hurt during the crisis.
The IG found that $11 million had been spent not to help victims but instead “wasted on restaurant meals, employee gifts and a $500 per month company Mercedes.” Despite the report, the Treasury has recovered only $113,592 of the $11 million – just barely over 1 percent of the mal-spent funds.
“There should be an appropriate measure of accountability,” Grassley wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, “including potential disciplinary action.”
This letter continues years of efforts by Grassley to stop money from being wasted on housing programs. In 2014 he made a speech to the Senate outlining “egregious examples of how ineffective the Department of Housing and Urban Development has been at policing local housing authorities,” including an example in which the Pittsburgh Housing Authority spent $3.5 million to “pay… lawyers to defend the very organization from scrutiny about whether the taxpayer money was wasted.”
And the year before that, Grassley dogged the Atlanta Housing Authority for its “exorbitant salaries,” including one year when its director made $644,000.
Grassley began focusing on the HHF after the IG reported last year on numerous examples of waste in the program. A year ago the Obama Treasury Department answered Grassley’s inquiry with a letter that amounted to a brush-off, offering numerous assurances that the Department was monitoring funds closely.
But the IG struck again in August of this year, showing that the waste had continued despite Grassley’s warning. The IG identified many examples, saying that some were “relatively small but numerous: TARP gift cards for employees, TARP barbeques, TARP flowers, TARP gym memberships, TARP balloons—even a TARP piñata. All these unnecessary expenses violate TARP law and Treasury’s contracts. And, most importantly, it means that taxpayers are spending more than they need to on programs.”
These smaller areas of waste amounted to some $3 million. Here’s what Grassley said about that sum: “Three million dollars might sound like decimal dust to those who write big checks at the Treasury Department, but it’s a lot of money for people struggling to keep their homes.”
Washington, D.C. still might not be paying much attention, but Grassley’s home-state newspaper, the Messenger, took note in a Sept. 12 editorial applauding him because “he understands that much of the money federal agencies spend is an aggregation of the tax dollars paid by average Americans of modest means. Grassley understands that people work hard to earn that money and have a right to expect it will be spent honestly with wisdom and frugality.”
Several conservative interest groups give awards (none, of course, with any cash value) to congressmen who emphasize frugality; Combined with hometown applause, those awards or high ratings might be expected to give lawmakers good incentives to find savings. Alas, though, the numbers of fiscally responsible senators are shrinking. From 2015 to 2016, the Citizens Against Government Waste reported that number of “taxpayer heroes” in the Senate dropped from 36 to 32. Likewise, the National Taxpayers Union said that in 2016, only 31 of 100 senators earned ratings of “good” or better on fiscal responsibility.
Grassley was one of the 31.Click here for reuse options!
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