Friday, October 28, 2011
A lot of people point to government waste as the chief reason the national debt has been growing at a rapid pace.
That's not necessarily so. Getting federal spending under control is far more complex than simply reducing waste.
But that doesn't mean there isn't waste. There is. And when the public is alerted to that waste it is often so egregious it sparks outrage and further fuels the belief that waste is rampant in government.
Why aren't the members of Congress more sensitive to this problem?
Perhaps it is because they allow their desire to please their constituents (and/or big donors) to obscure the need for fiscal prudence.
Take, for example, the purchase of three drone aircraft at a cost of $32 million for the Homeland Security Department.
The unmanned planes, which are to be used to patrol the border, can't be used by Homeland Security at this time. The department already has seven drones and doesn't have enough trained people to get those aircraft off the ground.
"We didn't ask for them," said a Homeland Security official who spoke to Brian Bennett, a reporter with the Tribune Washington Bureau, on the condition of anonymity.
Bennett reported the drones are being purchased after lobbying by members of Congress -- known as the drone caucus -- who champion the use of unmanned planes. Not surprisingly, many have industries in their districts connected to drones.
Congress approved $32 million to buy the new drones last year, although no money was included to train or hire pilots and crews. There wasn't even money for spare parts. Each unmanned aircraft requires a ground-based pilot, surveillance analysts, sensor operators and a maintenance crew.
Now, it makes sense for Homeland Security to use unmanned drones to monitor the borders if it works and is cost effective.
But the department already has more drones than it can effectively operate. Let's give it a chance to make what it has work.
The ultimate goal for Homeland Security is to have 18 to 24 drones deployed along the borders.
Fine. But let's not buy 24 drones until the department is ready to use them.
What's the rush?
The companies that make drones want to sell their products -- now.
It is flat-out wrong for Congress to force government agencies to buy equipment that can't be used and is not currently wanted.