Feds’ accounting is dodgy at best 

Imagine that Uncle Sam suddenly morphed into Samuel Smith, CEO of Federal Enterprises, a conglomerate with 2.8 million employees in 2009, $2.2 trillion in revenues in 2010 and a proposed budget of $3.7 trillion for 2012. If this private company were run the way Washington works, newspaper headlines soon would scream: “Mr. Smith goes to Attica.”

Washington’s routine accounting methods would trigger indictments against similarly behaved business executives. In fact, people have been convicted for operating as Washington has for decades.

Consider Democrats’ mishandling of $500 billion in Medicare funds.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about this at a March 3 Capitol Hill hearing.

“Your law cuts $500 billion in Medicare,” Shimkus reminded Sebelius. “Then you’re also using the same $500 billion to say you’re funding health care [reform]. Your own actuary says you can’t do both.”

“So,” Shimkus continued, “are you using it to save Medicare, or are you using it to fund health care reform? Which one?”

Sebelius confessed: “Both.”

“So, you’re double-counting,” Shimkus replied.

As any college business major knows, such double-counting would earn a big, fat F on an accounting final. Far worse, this is illegal.

This Medicare flim-flam parallels WorldCom’s double counting of revenues, among the defunct telecommunications company’s $11 billion in accounting fabrications. Such graft transformed Bernard Ebbers from WorldCom’s CEO into federal prisoner No. 56022-054. He is serving 25 years for fraud, conspiracy, and filing false statements.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans maintain a misallocation-of-funds conspiracy within a Ponzi scheme called Social Security.

In 2009, Heritage Foundation analyst David John reports, Social Security received $689.1 billion in payroll-tax revenues. It paid beneficiaries $685.8 billion, leaving a $3.3 billion surplus.

The Treasury took this $3.3 billion and placed a non-negotiable Special Issue Treasury Note of equal nominal value into the Social Security Trust Fund. These self-IOUs (literally stored in a filing cabinet in Parkersburg, W.Va.), obligate future Congresses to tax or borrow money to pay these retiree-benefit bonds decades hence.

Congress then spent this $3.3 billion on everything from ethanol to education to the EPA. Such chicanery smacks of embezzlement.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and Section 448 of the Internal Revenue Code require that nearly all companies with revenues exceeding $5 million use accrual accounting to reflect current finances and long-term liabilities. Despite being elephantine, the federal government instead employs cash-basis accounting — as do dry cleaners and shoe-repair shops.

“Since cash-basis accounting ignores government obligations to spend money in the future, it gives a disastrously incomplete and inaccurate picture of where the government really stands,” former Republican congressman Joseph DioGuardi wrote in his book, “Unaccountable Congress.”

Similarly, the Code of Federal Regulations features this SEC rule: “Financial statements filed with the Commission which are not prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles will be presumed to be misleading or inaccurate.” Thus, if presented by a private company, Uncle Sam’s books would be considered dodgy, if not cooked.

As Washington struggles to cap a giant geyser of red ink, it should stop practicing accounting that, in business, would be considered criminal.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

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