The General Services Administration (GSA) is getting a lot of attention they are not used to lately. As a government agency, they are best known for being the stewards of all the buildings the federal government owns. But they also manage other assets like the motor vehicle fleet. All told, they’re responsible for $500 billion in assets which includes thousands of buildings and hundreds of thousands of vehicles.
In addition the managing the assets, the GSA is also responsible to running government-wide efficiency projects designed to reduce expenses. The irony is so palpable I can taste the $4 shrimp.
But we all know this kind of government waste is rampant. The feds spend $3.5 trillion every year. It is likely that at least 10% of that, over $350 billion, is straight up waste that could be cut yesterday. But it is hard for any one person or group to identify where those cuts should take place. And each agency goes to Congress every year to justify their budget. This is a “use it or lose it” frame of mind that most budget managers are familiar with. If you get a budget of $20 billion and only spend $18 billion, no one is going to pat you on the back. You’re just going to get $18 billion next year.
The GSA likely threw such parties because they had the money to spare. And when some people raised concerns about the spending superiors shut them down. It wasn’t until an Inspector General dug into the GSA that this was discovered. But these parties had been going on for years. The charge of the Inspectors General works in theory, but we can make it better.
Why have an office of a few people dig through reimbursement receipts when the agencies can do it themselves. Crowdsource the reporting. Create a formal process by which a government employee or contractor can report what they believe to be fraudulent spending. Only if the report seems valid will the employee’s name be revealed to even just a small group of people. If the spending ends up being scandalous, that person should be publicly recognized as a taxpayer’s hero (if they want). Like the whistleblower award the SEC gives out, that person should get a cut of the waste they found.
Perhaps the government already runs a program like this and we just aren’t aware of it. That should be fixed. This should be a well known program to the American public, perhaps they can even participate. Let 300 million of us find government waste. We could create a new industry around it!
Of course it will be impossible for the Inspectors General to investigate everything, but they can certainly focus on the low hanging fruit. And if the submitters remained anonymous they wouldn’t jeopardize their own careers selling out their wasteful coworkers.
What are the downsides to such a system?