U.S. Sen. James Lankford on Monday released his annual report featuring examples of government largesse and inefficiency, again focusing on the national debt, government shutdowns and programs and practices he deems wasteful.
This is the fifth time the Oklahoma Republican has released his “Federal Fumbles” report, which touts ways the government has dropped the budget ball.
“We are not trying to create a confrontation, this is not about creating a big fight, or trying to embarrass different entities or agencies,” Lankford said in a conference call.
Lankford leads off this year’s fumble edition with a renewed call to curb the federal debt.
Lankford claims discretionary spending has caused the federal debt to increase by nearly $7 trillion since 2011, when Congress passed a law that put in place a set of 10-year caps to restrain the growth of the deficit.
“We need to maintain a spotlight on federal spending no matter what’s making headlines in Washington,” Lankford wrote in the introduction to the “fumble” document.
He admitted it can be hard currently to get people interested in talking about the federal debt and deficits.
“Quite frankly, it is difficult to get people to think about the federal deficit and debt because the economy is good, unemployment is down, federal revenue is up,” Lankford said. “Everyone just kind of goes along through life right now thinking things are really well in the economy.
“We know behind the scenes there’s a major problem that’s brewing — that’s our federal debt and growing deficit numbers here. We want to make sure people don’t forget about that.”
Lankford mentions the nearly $23 trillion federal debt six times in the 53-page report.
In addition to recommending policy changes, Lankford singles out individual program spending, including:
• $1.7 million to study sea lions in Russia. The funds are provided to Russian scientists for animal research.
• $50,000 to fund a study by the National Science Foundation as to why the U.S. relationship with Russia has changed in the past two years.
• $11.6 million in Social Security payments to 149 Puerto Ricans after they died.
Lankford acknowledges that the grants he highlighted are minuscule compared to the more than $660 billion spent on grants annually.
“At the end of the day, Congress must work toward more stringent standards by which grants are merited and awarded,” the report states.
Lankford recommends that agencies seeking grants should designate which grantees are considered “high-risk” as is the practices at the Department of Justice.
“Such designations would “simply provide more insight to make sure grantees and taxpayers get the most bang for their bucks,” according to the report.
Lankford focuses some of his spending ire on government programs, including the Disaster Relief Fund.
Lankford criticized a recent change in law that permitted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund recovery operations with allocations not subject to spending caps. “Since 2011 more than $129 billion have been allocated to the Disaster Relief Fund,” according to the report. All but $5 billion of the allocations remained outside statutory budget limits, the report states.
“While we should ensure FEMA has the funds it needs to fulfill its mission, Congress must budget the funding in a wise and accountable manner instead of throwing around billions of unauthorized dollars each year,” according to the report.
As for government shutdowns, Lankford said he is “sick and tired” of them.
The three most recent shutdowns, which includes two during Donald Trump’s presidency have wreaked “havoc” on federal employees and wasted billions of dollars.
Lankford proposes that Congress stay in Washington until all appropriation bills are passed by the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.
Lankford also uses the report to call on Congress to amend the 1934 Communications Act to permit state and local governments to jam cellphone signals in prisons and jails.
Oklahoma state prison officials say contraband cellphones are a big problem in their facilities. State prison officials seized nearly 40,000 contraband cellphones between 2011 and 2017, according to a 2018 Tulsa World special report on the subject.
“There’s no reason why we couldn’t have jamming of cellphone devices in all of our state prisons and any county that chooses to do that in the county jail,” Lankford said.
“I’m confident something is going to happen, but I’m also confident it isn’t going to be this year,” Lankford said. “This is a multi-year process.”
“At the end of the day, Congress must make the difficult choices of deciding where our priorities lie and our ability to fund them,” according to the report. “There are no quick answers, but these solutions are great steps in the right direction.”