Government’s inability to police fraud

We just got yet another reminder (as if we need one), about Government ineptitude at managing its own programs:

Welfare recipients and their friends and relatives are defrauding taxpayers of $500 million a year through the county’s child care programs, a grand jury report concludes.

The report released Thursday found that nearly half the $1.1 billion CalWORKS child care program is lost to fraud because the Department of Public Social Services doesn’t verify that welfare-to-work recipients qualify for child care.

“Widespread abuse … has created a program culture that encourages fraud by parents, child care providers and agency employees,” the county grand jury report said.

You can read more about it here, but the rest is just as depressing as the beginning.

The problem, as I see it, is that Government employees are not given incentives to care enough to do the very best. No private business can afford to have this type of fraud practiced against it on a regular basis. In the private sector, therefore, the business would (a) have systems in place to prevent fraud; (b) reward those employees who aggressively and reliably use that system to protect the company; and (c) punish (that is, fire) those employees who just can be bothered.

In the Government sector, however, employees get to keep their jobs no matter what. Unsurprisingly, those who are not committed to their work or who aren’t blessed with their own high ethical standards, will do the bare minimum. Most people are rational creatures, and its irrational to go the extra mile if that will make no difference whatsoever.  It’s even more irrational to do so if you look around and see that those who can’t be bothered to even make the first mile are still receiving the same incentives that you receive.

One could pull back and ask a different question: Why doesn’t government put those incentives in place?  My guess is there are several reasons. First, it’s truly other people’s money. We taxpayers docilely pour our money into the pot and make no demands (indeed, how can we?) that it be spent wisely and efficiently. In the corporate world, the owners are all over you if you waste their money. While we “own” these government programs in terms of financing them, we have no voice.

Second, the unions that drive the Government engine make damn sure that the pesky taxpayers don’t get in the way of the myriad benefits the unions have drawn down from the public trough. I’ll say again, as I often do at this point, that I have no problem with collective bargaining for a living wage and decent working conditions. Outside of those parameters, though, I’m hostile to unions, which I think are hostile to capitalism — and I think capitalism is the engine that drives a free, prosperous nation.

Third, Government programs must comply with the Code of Federal Regulations, an absolutely vile user’s manual for all things Government. If you think the Tax Code is bad, multiple it by 2 million, and you’ll get a small inkling about the CFR. I suspect that, even if all Government employees were disciplined, ethical geniuses, who were given huge bonuses for doing the job well, it would still be impossible for them to get the job done — any job — if they stuck rigidly to the CFR.  The CFR and efficiency are mutually exclusive concepts. If you’d like a good insight into just how stifling government regulations are, you can read Philip K. Howards’ only slightly dated The Death of Common Sense : How Law is Suffocating America.