The Spectacle Blog

Earmarks Can Be Fun!

By on 9.25.09 | 12:13PM

Picture this: you're a government bureaucrat who just came into nearly $10 million in federal funds, with few strings attached. Your mission: help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan transition back to civilian life.

Your first order of business? Give half your full-time employees six-figure salaries, bankroll extensive travel for the top brass, pay an out-of-state consultant hundreds of thousands for "critical thinking" (including typing up and distributing your newsletter), and subsidize expenses for your deputy director to travel between her residence in northern Virginia and her office in central North Carolina.

Also, ensure scant oversight of your employees and virtually no accountability from those higher up the food chain for how you spend your funds. Oh, and produce few deliverables to justify your pricey taxpayer outlay.

This isn't a fictitious scenario, sad to say. Several media outlets are now reporting about the Citizen Soldier Support Program, an initiative housed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It's funded, in part, by a $5 million federal earmark obtained by North Carolina U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat. Price, you'll remember, was one of 75 House members recently to vote against de-funding ACORN.

The News & Observer of Raleigh picked up the issue after the publication I work for, Carolina Journal, broke the story late last month. So far, the program has burned through much of its $10 million appropriation, leaving about $2.5 million in a reserve account -- and they have little to show for it.

Reports the N&O:

Half of the eight full-time employees are paid more than $100,000 a year, including a deputy director who has been reimbursed $76,000 for food, travel and lodging when she commutes from her home in northern Virginia to North Carolina.
An internal review found that the program produced reams of paperwork but few concrete results.

"The program has produced volumes of documentation, but the vast majority of this documentation is devoted to conceptual verbiage about how the program will function," the review said. "The CSSP is vulnerable to the accusation that it spends too much money on administrative overhead and low-priority, ‘nice-to-do' activities and not enough time on activities directly relevant to its mission."

SNIP

The deputy director for military relations, Susann Kerner-Hoeg, earns a salary of $129,600. Kerner-Hoeg works from her home in northern Virginia, and the program pays for her travel, lodging and meals when she comes to Chapel Hill. The program has spent $76,558 over the past three years for Kerner-Hoeg's flights, rental cars, hotel rooms and meals.

During the same period, the program paid $313,600 to Kent Peterson & Associates of Kansas City; KA. Peterson, a consultant, served as the director of community relations.

It's examples like these that bring the issue of wasteful government spending home to the average American's kitchen table.

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