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Government Waste Under the Cloak of Greenness

4 years ago
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It's time to stop covering up government waste, fraud and abuse with a "green" cloak.

Yes, global warming is happening and, yes, the government can help slow the process by encouraging companies to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions. One way is to retrofit high-polluting buildings with equipment more environmentally sound than that used when the buildings were constructed decades ago.

But putting that equipment in buildings slated to be razed, as the Washington Post discovered has been happening, is not the way to go.

It's not just wrong to spend limited government resources this way, it's almost criminal, given that millions of Americans remain without jobs and the government must find ways extend benefits to the long-term unemployed.

As he reports, the Department of Energy hailed one of its retrofit projects -- a reworking of the lighting and heating systems in four buildings at its Oak Ridge, Tenn., center -- as a "green" success.

Unfortunately, the green savings never materialized. The buildings were torn down shortly thereafter. Astonishingly, the government had paid $850,000 -- under a contract it could have gotten out of -- to retrofit them, even though it knew the buildings were scheduled to be destroyed.

The potential scale of waste, fraud and abuse in this program is mind-boggling. The Post reports that green initiatives at the Energy Department received nearly $17 billion through this year's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. (The $850,000 came from funds appropriated in earlier years.) The abuse uncovered in this report shows the danger in writing a blank check with little oversight regarding how the funds are spent.

Speaking in the Energy Department's defense, a spokesman said it had saved taxpayers more than $4 million in operations and maintenance costs by tearing down the buildings. But he also acknowledged that the retrofitting work never should have been done.

With $17 billion in stimulus funds available, let's hope everyone in the Energy Department got the message.

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