Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., released the report.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., released the report. Jacquelyn Martin/AP file photo

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Senator Questions Spending on Sea Lion Grants, Shutdowns and More 

Annual report identifies “wasteful” federal spending as well as solutions. 

A Republican senator on Monday released his fifth annual “Federal Fumbles” report to depict what he believes is $383 billion in wasteful government spending and propose solutions to better use taxpayer money.  

“This year I want to focus on something specific: Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, which grants Congress the power of the purse,” wrote Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. “It is Congress’s duty—my duty—to set spending caps and ultimately appropriate those dollars to fund our federal government. Regardless of the political noise of the day, we cannot forget about the $23 trillion national debt.” 

This year Lankford’s top “fumbles” by cost were: $163 billion of about $1.4 trillion in outstanding federal student loan debt in default as of June 2018, $162.1 billion from fiscal 2012-2019 for Overseas Contingency Operations funding obtained through a budget loophole and $124 billion outside cap spending for disaster relief since 2011. 

The report also called out waste in several hot-button issue areas including government shutdowns, immigration policy and election security.

Lankford said the last three shutdowns cost taxpayers about $4 billion. As a result, he introduced the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act, which would force members of Congress and their staff to say in Washington until they come to an agreement on funding. “The real stinger is the impact that government shutdowns have on federal employees and their families, who should be left harmless throughout the tumultuous, noisy, and partisan process of government funding,” he said. This comes as current funding for the government expires on Dec. 20 and the threat of another shutdown lingers. 

Lankford addressed election security through several angles. “While Russia meddles in our elections, our agencies are working to understand their sea lions and history,” with $2.9 million in grants, he said. He added that his Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency Act, which passed in the Senate in October, would make the grant process more transparent to better assess how grants are awarded and spent.

Pivoting from grants, “Instead of spending money to learn what Russian bureaucrats think about us, we should instead spend money to ensure our election system is secured from Russian bureaucrats,” Lankford stated. “This can be accomplished through passing my bill, the Secure Elections Act, which will strengthen election cybersecurity in America, streamline federal government information, share threats with states and give states the ability to audit their elections.” 

Also, Lankford said that as of July 2019 states have only spent $108 million of the $380 million in Help America Vote Act Funds that were appropriated in 2018 for state election security. He called on states to use the money “to improve cybersecurity, hire staff, or invest in machines that produce auditable results,” because “stockpiling federal money won’t do anything to secure our elections.”

Lankford added: “Failure to adequately fund [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] has forced [Customs and Border Protection] to house migrants in temporary makeshift facilities rather than the correct permanent ICE facilities.” He reported that this fiscal year, CBP is spending $1.7 million per day on soft-sided facilities because it does not have enough detention space to house migrants. “Those dollars could have been used by ICE to follow through on orders of removal or detention for individuals illegally present in the U.S.,” he stated. “We have emptied our pockets for empty tents.”

Some other examples cited in the report are: tax breaks for racehorse owners (estimated $35 million in 2018), Social Security payments to deceased citizens in Puerto Rico ($11.6 million from 1992-2016), and privatized homes for armed forces members with unhealthy living conditions (over $61 million in fiscal 2019). 

In addition to “fumbles,” Lankford highlighted areas of progress from previous iterations of his report in the “touchdowns” section.  “We succeeded this year by proposing legislative solutions to previous entries, moving bipartisan legislation in Congress, and encouraging the administration to better serve taxpayers and our dollars,” he said in a press release. “I remain committed to actually solving our federal debt and deficit issues. This is one way my team and I can continue to keep our focus in on real, tangible areas of waste, fraud and abuse in our government.”