If private businesses wasted money the way government does, they would not only go bankrupt at Autobahn speed, but its executives would also end up in jail. It is, after all, illegal in this country to handle private money recklessly. If you are the government, on the other hand, all you have to do is hide your complete lack of accountability, responsibility and business plans in a wrapping paper of good intentions. The latest example comes from Maine, where a “Green Energy Alliance” got millions of stimulus funds – and blew it all in less than two years. The Portland Press Herald has the story:
Lawmakers on Tuesday asked the director of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability [OPEGA] to draft legislation that would help guide state and quasi-state agencies on how to distribute public funds. That direction came as the Government Oversight Committee continued its probe into the now-defunct Maine Green Energy Alliance, which folded in January amid concerns about its effectiveness and allegations of political favoritism. … Lawmakers asked OPEGA in late April to look into the rise and fall of the Maine Green Energy Alliance. The nonprofit formed in 2009 to administer $3 million in federal grant funds for home energy audits and weatherization improvements but never reached the number of customers it had hoped. Two weeks ago, OPEGA concluded that the alliance failed, in part, for: lacking a specific plan to carry out its mission, setting ambitious goals that it failed to meet and operating with informal business practices that led to questionable costs. That was enough for lawmakers to ask OPEGA Director Beth Ashcroft to draft legislation for consideration during the next session, which convenes in January. That bill, Ashcroft said, likely will include suggestions outlined in the report, including ensuring that state or quasi-state agencies require that recipients of grant funds “have adequate capacity and proper controls.”
It gets better. The Maine Green Energy Alliance got $3 million, but did not exactly use it responsibly:
Of the half-million dollars spent by the alliance during its brief period of operation, OPEGA said about half of that total was not spent wisely because of informal business practices and poor planning. … Specifically, legislators on the Government Oversight Committee focused on the perception that the Maine Green Energy Alliance was little more than a nonprofit formed to benefit Democrats. Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, said the group’s connection to one political party was hard to overlook.
Political favoritism, a failed business plan, millions of dollars slushing around in God-knows-what bank accounts… Once again – this is only possible when the money used for these operations has been forcefully taken from its originators: the taxpayers. (See this story from California for a related example.)
As if to hit the nail on the head, the chairman of the government oversight committee sees a wake-up call in this story:
“I realize we’ve gone a long time on this, but I think it’s necessary because if it happened here, it probably happened before and it’s probably going to happen again unless we put some more strictures in the policy,” said Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, House chairman of the committee. “I’m amazed we don’t already have a policy for the spending of state and federal monies.”
Am I the only one who has a feeling that we will discover an endless list of waste, fraud and financial recklessness once we get to close the books on the stimulus bill?