On February 28, 2012, the United States Government Accountability Office issued its second-ever report on duplicative or poorly-controlled spending by various departments of the federal government.
Or in other words, taxpayer money that is being wasted every day because too many government departments are spending way too much money trying to do either the same stuff in a really half-baked way, or doing stuff that undermines what else it is trying to do, also in a half-baked way....
Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma recently described one really good example, involving the government’s efforts to get people, and especially children, to eat more healthy foods, but subsidizing the production and marketing of less-than-healthy food options:
He said government’s duplication in nutritional programs alone—worth $62.5 billion in 2008, according to GAO—have burned taxpayers over items as simple as potato chips.
“While many of these programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allow federal funds to purchase potato chips, dozens of other government-wide initiatives, are aimed at keeping Americans healthy, specifically suggesting food like potato chips should be limited in intake, and perhaps even taken out of public schools all together,” he said.
“At the same time, just this year the Department of Agriculture announced a nearly $50,000 federal grant was being doled out to a private potato chip company in New York. According the proposal, this money would be used to overhaul their media strategy and raise brand awareness and consumer knowledge—essentially encouraging people to buy and consume potato chips,” he said, noting that potato chips sales in the United States exceed $6 billion annually.
He’s not making that up—the $49,990 subsidy in question is being directed to Martin Sidor Farms Inc. of Mattituck, New York, which markets “North Fork Potato Chips”. Speaking of which, with a little bit of research, we’ve been able to identify the one person in Washington D.C. who is specifically responsible for that dubious achievement in duplicative, fragmented and wasteful spending: Senator Kirsten Gillebrand of New York.
Here, she explains in her own words what she wants to do to limit access to unhealthy foods in the nation’s schools:
I know how hard it can be for parents to prepare healthy meals every day for their children. But the fact is that if the federal government doesn’t take immediate steps to update nutritional standards and change the status quo where the meals with the lowest price tag also have the lowest nutritional value and the highest number of calories, our children and our future will suffer.
The government can take smart steps to give all kids the healthy start they need to reach their full potential.
First, we need to ban artery-clogging trans-fats in schools—and I’ve proposed legislation that would do exactly that. New York City has been at the forefront of this issue, banning trans fat in restaurants and in schools. We need to set the rest of the state and country toward that same path.
Second, we need to get junk food out of New York City schools. Despite strong action by Chancellor Joel Klein, too many school vending machines are still loaded with candy, chips and soda. Giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture more authority to set national nutritional standards for all food served in public schools, including vending machines, can change that.
Third, we need to help schools afford healthier meals. The current reimbursement rates schools receive do not keep pace with the rate of inflation. We should increase reimbursement rates by 70 cents—from $2.57 per meal to $3.27 per meal. With limited resources, New York City has taken a leadership role and done an excellent job in providing its school children with more nutritious food. But, in too many places across the country, a typical school lunch for a child may have chicken nuggets, chips, canned peas and a canned fruit cocktail. With more federal funding, schools could afford grilled chicken breast on a seven-grain roll, steamed broccoli, and a fresh fruit cup.
Over and above this funding increase, we should provide targeted federal relief to high-cost areas like New York City. In the coming weeks, I will introduce legislation that will index income eligibility for school lunches to match the high cost of rent in various regions. A family of four making $40,000 per year in New York City should have access to free and nutritious lunches for their children and the federal government should help pay for it.
Finally, the federal government ought to invest in community-based health centers and organizations that offer more athletic programs and physical activities for children.
So we see that she really wants to spend millions of dollars to achieve her aim of eliminating “unhealthy” food from the nation’s schools to fight American obesity. And as it happens, to replace it with the kind of “healthy” food that students in the Los Angeles Unified School District despise so much after being exposed to it that they’ve created their own black market in junk food to avoid having to eat the school’s “healthy” fare.
But don’t worry. Senator Kirsten Gillebrand is apparently working to cover those bases too:
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Wednesday said Martin Sidor Farms Inc., of Mattituck, will get $49,990 in federal funding to revamp its marketing strategy, increase sales and raise brand awareness of its North Fork Potato Chips.
The funding was allocated through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Value-Added Producer Grant Program, Gillibrand’s office said.
Gillibrand said the grant is “great news for Martin Sidor Farms ... We need our farmers to thrive if we’re going to have a strong and growing economy in New York.”
Gillibrand is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
“These federal grants will help ensure that our small farms and independent producers have the resources they need to bring their products to market and continue to drive economic growth in their region and across the state,” she said in a Wednesday news release.
Guess what product will be coming soon to your local school’s junk food black market!...
We really can’t make this stuff up. The moral of this lesson is that if you give a crusading Senator an extra $50,000, they’ll find some way to make all the other millions of dollars they spend go to waste.
How about we do away with the millions and only give them $50,000 to spend each?...
CBS Los Angeles. “LAUSD Students Roundly Reject Healthier School Lunch Menu“. 19 January 2012.
FoxNews. Report: Government Wasting ‘Tens of Billions’ of Dollars Annually on Duplication, Overlap”. 28 February 2012.
Gillebrand, Kirsten. “Fed Up: A Back to School Plan for Healthier Lunches”. The Huffington Post. 1 September 2009.
Mallia, Joseph. “$50G Grant to East End Potato-Chip Maker”. Newsday. 8 February 2012.
U.S. Government Accountability Office. 2012 Annual Report: Opportunities to Reduce Duplication, Overlap and Fragmentation, Achieve Savings, and Enhance Revenue. [PDF]. 28 February 2012.
Indiana Insider Blog. Spiral-cut Potato Chips. IN.gov. 16 August 2010.