by Eric Epstein
To the best of my knowledge, no person, corporation, organization or political party officially endorses waste as a business practice or political platform. Yet, this vast black hole continues to rotate and thrive around the twin laws of political physics – corruption and collusion.
This parallel universe is populated by hordes of wasteoids who comfortably nest within the major political parties and feed on their host – the taxpayer. They gain access through insider trading, campaign contributions, blood lineage, fraud, deception, and apathy.
Planet Waste is thriving and smothering political and economic competition.
Taxpayers are besieged with reports, investigations and convictions relating to welfare and weatherization fraud, ID theft, senior scams, airplane rides to work, pay raises, pension “bounces”, WAMs, judicial car washes, $5 bags of peanuts, no bid contracts, Pay to Play, charm school, Pay to Pray, culinary classes, “European facials, “Escape Pedicures,” falconry lessons, “Golfers Glow,” bad SWAPs, mud baths, “Polling for Dollars”, Bonusgate, 25 hour billing days, “Ghost Employees”, nepotism, and “Special Leadership Accounts.”
Waste, fraud, and duplicity have become the forth branch of government. Pennsylvanians are predictably overwhelmed by systematic, state-sponsored abuse. So, how do we confront waste and cultivate a culture of accountability?
Most states sponsor programs or departments that investigate abuse, fraud, and waste. Some states even reward whistle blowers. Pennsylvania maintains several offices for consumers and taxpayers to report bilking practices.
The Auditor General’s Office of Taxpayer Advocate provides a hotline #1-800-922-8477. The Advocate does not offer financial rewards, but asks, “If you know of or suspect waste, fraud or abuse in a state program, agency or other endeavor, please contact the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate.”
The Attorney General has several outlets including hotlines for consumer protection #1-800-441-2555 and health care #1-877-888-4877.
The Department of Revenue also enlists citizens to report fraud to a Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate (717)-772-9347. The Department allows for anonymous tips, but “does not offer monetary rewards for reporting tax evasion crimes.”
Yet, the waste stream continues to grow like a bloated deer tick. How do we arrest this plague? Do we need to consolidate departmental advocates into a dedicated and independent Government Accountability Office? Should we reward waste busting efforts?
We can implement measures to save taxpayers dollars by incentivizing waste and fraud reporting. But we risk creating one monster to devour another. Monetizing whistleblowing has merit, but it also raises issues of privacy, access to proprietary data, cyber invasions, and character assassinations.
We should evaluate the experiences in other states and examine Best Management Practices for combatting waste and fraud.
At a minimum, we need to strengthen existing portals for reporting waste and enhancing enforcement capabilities. Among the strategies we should consider include: increase sentencing guidelines for fraud offenses, facilitate better data sharing and interagency cooperation, increase surety bonds for contractors, and enhance and expand overpayment recovery efforts.
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