Friday, 5 September 2014

Wasteful expenses (Part 1)                            

It is to be expected that government officials in their desire to make names for themselves, will encourage the taxpayers to pay out millions and sometimes billions of dollars to build buildings and other structures that in the end, are rarely if ever used later on as time passes by. What follows are examples of these horrendous blunders.

Summer Olympic Games in Athens (2004)

Modern Olympic Games have produced profits and losses for their host cities and Athens is no exception. In an obscure corner of a park sits a forlorn reminder that, ten years ago, Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics. The crumbling miniature theater is inscribed with the words “glory, wealth, wisdom, victory, triumph, hero and labor” where visiting Olympic officials planted an olive sapling that would bear their names for posterity. The structure was once a symbol of pomp, the marble theater is now an emblem of pointless waste in a venture that left a mixed legacy: a brand-new subway, airport and other vital infrastructure that significantly improved everyday life in a city of 4 million, set against scores of decrepit sports venues built in a mad rush to meet deadlines with little thought for post-Olympic use.

As the people of Greece continue to suffer under a painful economic depression, questions linger of whether the Athens Games were too ambitious an undertaking for a country with a weak economy. While economists agree it would be unfair to blame the meltdown on the 17-day Games, the post-Olympic era is seen as a decade of lost opportunities,  including failure to significantly boost the country’s sporting culture.

The latest government estimate sets the final cost of the Games at 8.5 billion euros, ($11,360 USD billion) double the original budget but a drop in the ocean of the country’s subsequent 320 billion-euro debt, which spun out of control after 2008.

Few of the sporting venues; mostly purpose-built permanent structures   have seen regular post-Olympic use. The badminton venue is a successful concert hall, but the empty table-tennis and gymnastics stadium is up for sale, and the beach volleyball center has been rarely used. Most Olympic venues are padlocked.

Mind you, it was a useful investment to the non-sports infrastructure of Greece. They got a good airport out of it. I remember when my wife arrived at the airport at Athens in 1990. It was worse than a third-country airport. The Island of Bali had a better airport than the one in Athens then. The new one in Athens is top of the line.

The Olympic village was transformed into public housing. That was put to good use but the taxpayer’s money would have been better spent on the infrastructure of Athens than wasting it on the Games in 2004. If Greece had been experiencing a good economic upturn in 2004 then the sacrifice might have been worth it but that wasn’t what Greece had experienced that year.  They were in dire straits then.

United States Department of Defence

You'd think the U.S. military would have learned a lesson or two about wasteful spending after scandals over purported $100 hammers, $300 toilet seats, and $16 muffins. But it turns out the Pentagon is still presiding over one of the most catastrophically wasteful militaries on Earth. In a way this makes perfect sense: having an annual half-trillion dollar budget and exemption from federal audits is enough to make any branch of government careless with its finances. And some of these mistakes are almost understandable given the vast scale of the U.S. military, like last year when the Department of Defense (DoD) purchased more than $700 million in supplies and equipment that were already overstocked. But with service members facing sharp cuts to their benefits as part of the next round of sequestration, there's no positive way to frame military waste. Here's a list of the more outrageous projects the DoD deems more important than the housing, education and medical services of that nation’s  soldiers. 

The program for developing the F-35 has cost taxpayers $400 billion over 12 years of intense development and engineering. And that's not even half the real price tag: building and maintaining a fleet of 2,443 planes for 30 years (their approximate lifespan) will cost more than $1 trillion. It remains to be seen if the F-35 is worth even a fraction of the development cost. The planes currently aren't able to fly in bad weather or at night, and none have been used in combat. 

The U.S. Navy has been attempting to create a ‘green fleet’ by adopting alternative biofuels. The catch is that the cleaner fuel costs $26 per gallon, which is much more expensive than the $2.50 the Navy pays for each gallon of petroleum. Despite reports that there isn't a clear long-term cost benefit of adopting biofuel, the DoD has spent millions on private companies that are developing alternative fuels. And green projects aren't confined to a single branch of the military; last year the Air Force paid for 11,000 gallons of biofuel at a rate 10 times higher than the price of regular jet fuel. 

The Human Terrain System (HTS) is a $600 million program that helps service members develop a greater understanding of the cultures where they are deployed. A recent investigation criticized HTS for chronic mismanagement, incidents of racism, sexual harassment and cases of serious fraud. Anthropologists have derided it for militarizing their field without producing useful fieldwork — an opinion shared by some military officers, who dismiss HTS reports as useless. As Congress goes through the motions of debating the National Defense Authorization Act, they are poised to approve an additional $15 million for the program. 

Alaska's infamous Gravina Island Bridge Project would have been a $338 million bridge that was to serve only 50 residents. All that's left is what is called, the Road to Nowhere, leading up to the nonexistent bridge. The bridge was to be nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge which is 8,981 feet (2,737.4 m) long, and higher than the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge was to cross the Tongass Narrows, part of Alaska's Inside Passage, so the bridge was designed to be tall enough to accommodate ship traffic, including the Alaska Marine Highway and the cruise ships that frequent Alaskan waters during the summer months. According to the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, the project's goal was to “provide better service to the airport and allow for development of large tracts of land on the island.” Well, that never happened. This was Sarah Palin’s dream project but her dream was a nightmare for the taxpayers who ended up paying $25 million for the road that led nowhere.  Those wishing to get to the island still use the ferry.

I will give you more instances in the near future where government spending went haywire at the taxpayer’s expense. 

No comments: