Senator Goes After Wolf Trap Unions, Fort Belvoir Food and Estonian TV

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is highlighting examples of "waste." Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is highlighting examples of "waste." Nati Harnik/AP

In the third of what is shaping up as a weekly “waste report,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., last week went after an appropriations earmark that forces the National Park Service to pay for unionized stagehands at the suburban Washington concert venue Wolf Trap Farm Park.

“Wolf Trap is trapping nearly $600,000 of taxpayer money for wasteful, D.C.-insider hypocrisy,” Paul said in an Aug. 8 release.

Paul said he generally approves of the public-private partnership that permits the Park Service, which maintains the Vienna, Va., wooded property, to cooperate with the Wolf Trap Foundation, which does the artistic programming and marketing. But he criticized an overall $2.2 million earmark for the greater National Capital Area Performing Arts program, under which the Park Service, over its own objections, has to hand over $594,000 to the Wolf Trap Foundation to defray operations costs.

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That earmark, Paul noted, is not in Congress’ major consolidated spending bill, but “on page 16 of the 109-page explanatory statement for division G of the Appropriations Act. Vague and hard to find, the earmark is almost the definition of “snuck in,” wrote Paul, who chairs the Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management Subcommittee of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel. “D.C.’s most-connected people, many of whom are strong union supporters, are using taxpayer money to alleviate themselves and fellow Washingtonians of paying union prices.”

Citing Fairfax, Va., where Wolf Trap is located, as the second wealthiest county in the nation, Paul said concert-goers could afford about $5 per ticket more to pay the stagehands. “But even if the increase were 40 percent or 400 percent, that cost should be paid by the patron who chooses to take in a show, not the taxpayer who has no choice whatsoever.” 

On Aug. 1, Paul’s “ongoing project cataloguing egregious examples of waste within the U.S. government” relied on a Government Executive exclusive that the Army spent $6 million renovating the Eagles Nest Dining Facility (also in Fairfax County, Va.) only to close it down on July 1 due to poor attendance.

“The shocking part is not that the Army is closing the facility after the renovation, but that the renovation was done in the first place,” Paul wrote, noting the existence of fast-food eatery competition “a short drive” away.

“In addition to their regular pay, military personnel receive one of two types of food assistance: Subsistence-In-Kind (SIK), where a soldier walks into an Army cafeteria and receives a meal, and Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), a tax-free, additional benefit added to a soldier’s pay for them to purchase food wherever they see fit,” Paul explained.

He said he thinks the need to close Eagles Nest should have been foreseen. “With more and more private food options on base, or in local communities, fewer personnel are taking SIK plans,” Paul noted. “This is why, last August, the Army decided to explore closing mess halls operating at less than 65 percent of capacity based on SIK users."

On July 25, Paul zeroed in on the State Department’s offer of a $60,000 grant to train television camera operators for Estonia’s ETV+ channel, which broadcasts in Russian. “Since ETV+ is Estonian Public Broadcasting’s third television channel, the American people would be right to ask how all the existing television camera expertise disappeared - and why they have to pay to replace it,” he wrote.

The proposal to be submitted to State, as Paul described it, should include sending an American team of trainers, including a Russian-English translator, to Estonia to conduct training. Separately, in July or August, “when [the] ETV+ production team is on leave,” the grant recipient is expected to bring five camera operators to the United States for a 10-day training session in a “learning-studio.”

The Estonian channel is funded through its Ministry of Culture, Paul noted, and “one might expect the technical expertise for camera operation to already exist within the ERR family.”

Since Paul’s staff first discovered this grant opportunity, the original posting was replaced with a new posting under a similar, but different, grant opportunity number, the senator wrote. “The only other change was to take out reference specifically to ETV+.  Perhaps someone realized an observer (such as the FSO subcommittee) might start looking into ETV+ and asking why the U.S. taxpayers are funding this?” he said. 

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