This past week I confronted one of the most blatant cases of federal waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars that I’ve seen since coming to Washington. It involves a federal agency sending out cash in the mail to entice survey responses.
In 2011, the Bureau of Reclamation sent a survey to solicit local, regional and national input on the societal need to remove four privately owned dams on the Klamath River. The survey was mailed to 11,000 households in California, Oregon and selected households in the rest of the nation.
Each of these households received a postcard telling them a survey was coming, and then a large packet with the survey arrived. Each packet included a cover letter, postage-paid return envelope and survey with a $2 bill included to encourage people to respond—totaling $22,000 American taxpayer dollars.
Those who did not respond, but kept the $2 bill anyway, then received a follow-up Federal Express or Priority Mail package. These packages were sent to 1,245 people, out of which 286 responded. Each of these 286 respondents was given $20, which means that $5,720 of additional American taxpayer dollars were spent -– not including the cost of the FedEx or priority mail. Leave it to Washington to throw around even more money and up the reward for not responding in the first place.
For generations, the Bureau of Reclamation has served the Western United States well. Its dams, reservoirs, canals and hydropower turbines have formed the backbone of our communities and provided abundant water and emissions-free energy. This was all based on ratepayers paying for almost every cent of these projects and at no expense to taxpayers.
Yet, that mission is changing, and this couldn’t be a better example of just how the agency has changed under this Administration.
Enticing survey responses with cash incentives to prove a societal need for a project is wrong on so many levels. First and foremost, it’s a blatant waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. Collecting data this way is disingenuous, and a downright sneaky move by some out-of-touch bureaucrats.
Some of the responses to the survey said it all:
“No wonder the US is having $$ problems if the government has extra $2 bills to mail out randomly” another said.
“Wow, what a waste of time. I have neither the time or interest in something I have not a clue about happening clear across the country. Sorry. P.S. Thanks for the 2 bucks.” yet another wrote.
In all fairness, there were some positive responses. But, I think this comment says it best: “Send me no more. Thank you.”
This week I passed an amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill to end this egregious practice of wasting taxpayer dollars in this time of mounting federal debt.
My amendment prohibits the Bureau of Reclamation and the other agencies covered under this legislation from funding a survey in which money is included or provided for the benefit of the responder. It doesn’t say that federal agencies can’t have public input or send out surveys, which is a necessary process – it simply says no more giving away taxpayer dollars.
This practice is not exclusive to the Bureau of Reclamation. Just this past week as I was gearing up to introduce my amendment, a member of my staff received a survey from the Commerce Department with a $1 bill included.
In addition to the amendment, I plan to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to ban all federal agencies from including taxpayer dollars in surveys for the benefit of the responder.
I wholeheartedly agree with the general need for public input into our government, but the practice of sending out American taxpayer dollars to encourage public participation, or worse; to buy public support where it might otherwise be lacking, is a symbol of the lack of accountability and how out of touch our federal government has become.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a member of the House Resources, Agriculture and Small Business Committees