Fed’s Secret Spending Exceeds $20 Billion

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Not a day goes by when Americans don’t complain about the billions of dollars they see wasted by the federal government. A new investigation by the Washington DC NBC affiliate reveals that at least $20 billion in taxpayer money has been spent in secret this year. The news should come as an unwelcome wakeup call to anyone who thinks the feds should keep better account of the people’s money.

This secret spending is done through something called “micropurchases.” Federal employees are issued purchase cards that come courtesy of the American taxpayer. The investigation showed that these cards are used to purchase Starbucks coffee, gym memberships, clothing, and plenty of other inappropriate personal items. Had it not been for the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request, these purchases would have never been disclosed to the public.

Each agency implicated by the investigation, i.e., most of them, has their own excuses for the waste. They insist that micropurchases are a benefit to the taxpayers when the cards are not abused. It’s up to the American people, of course, to determine the line between proper usage and abuse. But it’s hard to make that determination when the federal government refuses to make the purchases publicly available except when forced to.

The problem here isn’t Starbucks or gym memberships so much as it is the secrecy behind the purchases. The federal government needs to be held to public accountability if we’re to have a democracy that works. People cannot vote properly without having access to all the facts. Granted, that might mean strict limitations on how much money can be spent on office coffee runs, but that’s the price of taxpayer funding. When you have upper middle class families and small businesses being taxed to the point that it hurts, you can’t exactly expect them to understand why $20 billion a year needs to be spent on office frivolities and personal comforts.

To be sure, $20 billion is not a lot of money when compared to total federal spending ($3.5 trillion in 2013.) But we can’t afford to be complacent even when it comes to the smallest pieces of the pie. Public funding for NASA, for instance, comes to around $30 billion. Would we rather have our federal employees well-stocked with Starbucks or a better space program? Or would we prefer that $20 billion to go somewhere else entirely, like back into the wallets of the taxpayer?

Unfortunately, most Americans have a limited idea of where their tax dollars go in the first place. Making these records public would do little to invoke outrage, simply because the amounts are so staggering. When you know the government is spending trillions a year, it’s hard to get upset about $20 billion. The numbers are beyond reasonable calculation. But if we’re ever going to tame the behemoth that has become the federal government, we’ll need to get a better grasp on where the money is heading.