What PrimeTime Live Didn’t Tell You About Government Waste

For the second time in six months, Prime Time Live (ABC-TV) and Sam Donaldson devoted one hour to more examples of waste in the federal government. A guided tour into the land of taxpayer-funded boondoggles, the program covered lots of ground.

There was the $16 million to refurbish the underground Congressional subway to reduce the waiting time from three minutes maximum to one minute maximum for the lawmakers’ trips back and forth between their offices and the House and Senate chambers. There was the megabillion supercollider project in Texas, condemned by many scientists. A song for children praising the supercollider was one of the spinoffs of your taxpayer dollars. And how about paying higher consumer prices for destroying oranges “in surplus” under marketing orders that control supply, then turning around and forcing taxpayers to pay $70 million to promote orange sales in foreign countries. These orange growers have given new meaning to corporate welfare — on the backs of both consumers and taxpayers.

Prime Time showed the usual travel junkets for members of Congress to socialize with corporate lobbyists at luxurious water holes, all expenses paid. In between their golf games, swimming and drinking, the solons got in some exchange of views on weighty matters of state.

Also paraded were more rounds of hardware-type products (e.g., wrenches) that the Pentagon bought for hundreds of dollars apiece. Remember the $450 claw hammer. Still doing the same thing through the multi-tiered military contracting markup process, the Pentagon just changes the kind of hardware store products.

Watching Donaldson the other evening, you would have wondered why you are paying $70,000 per job created by giant corporations moving to or starting plants in Puerto Rico because their lobbyists have kept intact a $3 billion a year federal tax exemption on their profits. By contrast, the workers in these plants make a fraction of the $70,000 per job for their income.

Viewers were also reminded of the Resolution Trust Corporation’s (RTC) contract with the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse that paid 67 cents per page just to copy documents regarding S&L bank failures. That is just for labor. Though exposed to a torrent of criticism from Congress, the RTC is planning to continue its relationship with the firm.

Focusing on graphic government waste is an ABC specialty. Each Monday, Peter Jennings’ nightly news features one notorious example of such waste and Jennings ends the segment with the phrase “Your Money, Your Choice.”

But what choice do these programs give the viewers? No feedback nor action data are given to viewers who want to help do something about these endemic abuses. The best Donaldson can do, and it is better than any other news magazine show, is to assure us that Prime Time will return to the scene and see if the abuses still are there.

Rather than leave the active viewer hanging on the indignation generated by the expose, these magazine shows can give telephone numbers and addresses for people to express their opinions, get further information or participate, if they choose, in some on-going drive to clean up Washington.

Otherwise, these shows will indirectly foster more public cynicism, more citizen turnoff and more elbow room for the rascals who quickly realize that even public exposure of their misdeeds can be endured with impunity.

For information about the tools necessary to give citizens power to reform their government, send a stamped self-addressed, large envelope to Reinventing American Democracy, P. 0. Box 19312, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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