Jewish World Review April 18, 2012/ 26 Nissan, 5772
The Chumps Never Change
By Roger Simon
I am not complaining about the cost, though I do find it — only small pun intended — astronomical.
Getting the Discovery, which weighs 83 tons, aboard the 747 requires special equipment, and getting it off will require two cranes — but still: $11 million for one flight of about 800 miles?
But as I say, I am not complaining about the cost. The Discovery will be on display at one of the most extraordinary museums in the world, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Fairfax County, Va., a place well worth visiting.
The Washington Post did a really nice article Sunday on the planned transfer of the Discovery. The story was rich in detail and well-written, and I read it all the way to the end, an effort I usually reserve only for my own articles.
So that is why, four paragraphs from the end, I found this: "NASA calculated a delivery fee of $11 million, but the intragovernment transfer of funds 'just got too complicated,' said (Valerie) Neal (curator of human spaceflight at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum). So NASA waived the charges."
This is what I am complaining about. The bookkeeping of one government agency paying another government agency was so hugely complicated that nobody in the entire federal government could figure out how to do it, and so an $11 million fee was simply "waived."
In Washington, this did not cause a ripple of interest. After all, the late U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois allegedly once said, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money."
And Washington is the place where the Buffett Rule, which would raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, is sneered at because it would raise only a pathetic $47 billion over 10 years.
So, you see, Ev Dirksen was wrong. In Washington, a "billion here, a billion there" is not considered "real" money at all.
But if somebody owed you $11 million like the Smithsonian owed the NASA, I bet you could have figured out a way to get it. Me, I would have asked for a check (certified, if possible) or a wire transfer. A U-Haul truck full of cash would have been gratefully accepted.
Imagine if this $11 million had had existed in your real life instead of the fantasy life of Washington.
(The scene opens at the kitchen table of Henry and Martha. The table is covered with a red-and-white checkered oilcloth. The morning sun weakly lights the room as Henry mops up the last of his sunny-side-up egg with a piece of toast and Martha sips her coffee from a chipped mug that says, "World's Greatest Grandma." The kitchen could be in Des Moines or Butte or Macon or Spokane or a thousand other U.S. cities or towns.)
Henry (wiping his mouth with a paper napkin): "Martha, if I owed you $11 million, would you find a way to collect it?"
Martha (putting down her cup): "Henry, if you owed me 11 hundred dollars, I'd sell you to the circus if I thought they'd pay that much for you."
(The scene is the sleek, yet comfortable boardroom of Kraft Foods in Northfield, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Around a sleek, yet comfortable conference table sit seven sleek, yet comfortable vice presidents and the CEO.)
CEO: "What seems to be the problem?"
Vice President for Macaroni: "The cheese division owes us $11 million and won't pay."
Vice President for Cheese: "It's not that we won't pay; we can't figure out how to pay. So we suggest the macaroni division just waive the $11 million."
CEO: "You're fired. Next up is Oreos. Is there a problem?
Vice President for Cookies: "No, sir!"
Vice President for White Stuff: "No, sir!"
But that's real life. That's not the government. In the government, everything is a problem, including how to transfer money from one pocket to another.
As I write this, I am watching the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on C-SPAN. It is investigating how the General Services Administration, which has 12,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $26 billion, blew through $800,000 on a lavish and vulgar party for some of its employees in Las Vegas in 2010.
That kind of money is just chump change, of course. And I am guessing that the investigation of the misspending of $800,000 will probably cost the government more than $800,000.
But it is necessary. In Washington, we call this reform.
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