For years, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma released an annual “Government Wastebook.” Each addition was free to download from the Senator's website and took a humorous look at some of the more absurd ways that the federal government wastes our tax money and fails at its responsibilities. Senator Coburn retired in 2014.
Fortunately, Republican Senator James Lankford, who succeeded Senator Coburn in a special election, has continued Senator Coburn's annual tradition.
Senator Lankford's “Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball”1 not only continues the good work done by Senator Coburn, distinguishes itself from the Government Wastebook in one key area: Senator Lankford and his staff offer a “recovery” with each “federal fumble.” The emphasis on solutions in “Federal Fumbles” represents an evolution in the idea that was started by Senator Coburn. Furthermore, “Federal Fumbles” includes ample sources and footnotes for readers to use to learn more about the issues.
While it is worth reading in full, one “federal fumble” in particular caught my attention.
On page 12 of “Federal Fumbles,” Senator Lankford documents that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has spent $6 million thus far on repairs on a former Service Processing Center in San Pedro, California, that was originally for housing detainees (read the DHS Inspector General (IG) report that he cites here).
In 2007, the facility, then a Service Processing Center, was closed because of safety concerns. ICE employees moved back into the building in 2008 and continued to use it to house detainees temporarily. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warned in 2012 that the building continued to have severe safety issues. In December 2014, the ICE was again forced to vacate the building due to severe safety concerns.
Between 2008 and 2014, ICE spent $4.2 million in order to repair the building. In 2015, the ICE decided to add an additional $1.6 million to the repair efforts. However, the IG found that ICE had not developed a comprehensive plan to perform the repairs, and instead was making patchwork repairs without addressing major safety issues. Furthermore, the IG noted that because the facility was originally an active detention facility, there are no electrical outlets on the second and third floors. This is noteworthy because the ICE plans to use those floors as office space.
In the “recovery” section, Senator Lankford notes favorably the IG suggestion that ICE assess whether this project is worth the time and money, or if it would be easier to demolish the building and start over. Furthermore, if it is plausible, ICE should develop a long-term plan for actually completing it.
I must add that it is ridiculous that ICE continued to use this facility for immigration detentions, even temporarily, when it had made only severely inadequate efforts to address the well-documented safety concerns.
I encourage everyone to take a look at “Federal Fumbles.” Taken as a whole, it provides an accessible, interesting, and sometimes morbidly humorous look at some of the large and small wastes of our money and instances of incompetence by the federal government.