President Donald Trump last year announced a “war on waste” in the federal government. But unlike most of the president’s pronouncements, this one didn’t receive much attention. Mr. Trump would be wise to re-emphasize his commitment to the cause and make his war on irresponsible spending a top priority.
To that end, a group that includes former Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, long a critic of pork-barrel projects, has made it a mission to create an online database of expenditures for every level of government in the United States. The initial results compiled by OpenTheBooks.com have been instructive, to say the least.
In a two-page ad in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, the organization urges the president to post online “every cent the White House spends” and to direct everyone in his administration “to do the same.” The idea is that allowing taxpayers to access more detailed information about federal spending might discourage Congress and bureaucrats from greenlighting needless budget items.
That may or may not be wishful thinking. But there’s no doubt openness drives accountability — and OpenTheBooks.com has identified a veritable slew of questionable government projects.
■ The Department of Agriculture doled out $4.8 million in farm subsidies in fiscal 2017 to recipients living in the country’s 150 most expensive ZIP codes.
■ Since fiscal 2009, the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities has supported Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute to the tune of $3.3 million.
■ Over six years, the Small Business Administration loaned $21 million to Rolex jewelers.
■ During the last week of fiscal 2017, the Department of Defense spent $6,600 on fidget spinners.
■ Washington spent $227,795 in fiscal 2016 to replace a floating bathroom in Utah.
“Eliminating waste takes an extraordinary force of will,” wrote Mr. Coburn and Adam Andrzejewski, the group’s founder, in a recent op-ed for The Hill. “The ideal member of Congress isn’t one who sends money back to states and districts; it’s one who prevents money from leaving in the first place.”
During fewer than two years in office, Mr. Trump has been the disruptive force he promised on the campaign trail. But in no way could he better upend the status quo and create a more positive lasting legacy than by attacking the culture of profligate spending that has dominated the Beltway for more than half a century. The results are tallied daily on a National Debt Clock now racing toward $22 trillion.
It’s worth noting that tax collections are at record levels. But it’s never enough. The country doesn’t have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. Mr. Trump should enthusiastically embrace OpenTheBooks.com.