Coming on the heels of revelations that the IRS spent $50 million on more than 200 employee conferences, it may be inconsequential to find out about $20,000 for a dental conference, $30,000 for a meeting in New Jersey and $1 million for a Head Start gathering. Except perhaps to millions of American taxpayers who grow either more angry or weary every time they hear — as they so frequently do these days — of yet another federal employee conference of dubious value and excessive expense. The outlays for the dental, New Jersey and Head Start conferences were part of the $36 million spent on such events by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since 2009, according to the House Education and the Workforce Committee chaired by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.
HHS spent that $36 million even as professional politicians from both major parties talk solemnly about "austerity," sequestration and the increasing U.S. national debt. Despite their incessant speechifying, the spending and debt keep growing. So it should shock no one that when the committee requested more information from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the picture turned even more distressing for taxpayers. Consider some of the Kline panel's findings:
• Nearly $2 million was spent on government employee conferences related to the Head Start program. Head Start, a sacred vestige of the Great Society, is an early-education program that President Obama refuses to terminate even though an authoritative study conducted by none other than HHS demonstrated that the program is at best ineffective and at worst harmful. The HHS study and similar examinations by multiple experts in academia and elsewhere make clear that Head Start spending is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
• $450,000 for activities related to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The TANF program went backwards last year when Obama and Sebelius effectively gutted its work requirements, thus negating widely lauded reforms approved by a Republican Congress and Democratic president in 1996. The reformed TANF resulted in 2.8 million welfare recipients leaving the government's dole and becoming self-sufficient and encouraging a significant drop in child poverty.
• Nearly $2 million on Children's Bureau events. The Children's Bureau focuses on health and welfare issues related to kids. Thousands of private charities and nonprofits do the same thing, so why do HHS bureaucrats have to spend millions of tax dollars over three years on 11 conferences and related activities? Have these people never heard of things like Skype or GoToMeeting?
Getting a handle on exactly how much federal bureaucrats really spend every year on conferences — where, by the way, they talk mainly to each other — may be among the greatest mysteries of the modern world. The $36 million figure HHS provided to the Education and the Workforce Committee contrasts sharply with the $56.1 million the health agency reported to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee just for 140 conferences held in 2012.
That put HHS fourth among the biggest-spending federal departments with the Pentagon tops at $89 million, followed by the Department of Veterans Affairs at $72.7 million and the Department of Justice at $58.7 million. Bureaucrats at HHS no doubt have excuses to account for why they gave different figures to two congressional panels. Even so, taxpayers are past being tired of hearing their double talk.