Waste and abuse as far as the fiscal eye can see 

Federal bureaucrats will write checks totaling more than $3.7 trillion in 2011, paying for everything from alphabetical file folder supplies to zinc-plated radiation shielding.

In the process, hundreds of billions of tax dollars will be paid to dead or otherwise undeserving people, spent on materials and products the government doesn't need or already has too much of, handed over to crooks masquerading as legitimate businessmen, or simply lost. But don't take our word for it -- that accounting comes from the government itself. According to the 2010 Financial Report of the United States Government, at least $125.4 billion was thus spent improperly. But that estimate was based on a review of only about $2.3 trillion, thus leaving at least $1.3 trillion unexamined. That means the true amount lost every year to waste, fraud and abuse may well be closer to $200 billion.

In fact, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the total could be well in excess of that total because "the federal government is struggling to get control of waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in the administrative departments and agencies. Almost two years ago, the Oversight Committee heard testimony from the Chairman of the Recovery and Transparency Board, Earl Devaney, who cited figures from the Association of Fraud Examiners that suggest that U.S. taxpayers lose as much as 7 percent of their government's spending to fraud and waste. If that figure is true, then the federal government lost $228 billion last year alone."

A major reason why it is so difficult to know precisely the full extent of waste, fraud and abuse in the federal budget is because the government does not properly account for its spending with a consolidated statement that reflects all outlays, revenues and assets. And because so many agencies use different systems to track and report their spending, nearly five years after its establishment, USASpending.gov -- the searchable Internet database that was supposed to put most federal spending within a few mouse clicks of every citizen -- can only provide credible data on about a third of the government's annual outlays, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

However much the actual total might be, it's too much. As Mercatus Center senior fellow Veronique de Rugy recently told the panel led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., "in fiscal year 2010, the federal government spent $3.6 trillion dollars, or 24.6 percent of GDP, well above the historical average. The consequence of this spending was $1.3 trillion in budget deficits. A large part of this overspending was improper spending or spending that never should have happened at all."

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