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POGO’s Outsized Tax-Day Impact

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For 37 years, the Project On Government Oversight has worked—frequently behind the scenes—to help stop the federal government and private contractors from wasting your tax dollars. In one of our early investigations, POGO exposed the fact that the Pentagon was buying $7,600 coffee makers and $435 hammers. In a 1999 report, POGO pointed out that if contractors could inflate the price of everyday items like coffee makers and hammers, how much were they overcharging for things taxpayers didn’t understand, like high-tech weapon systems? Our investigations have found billions of dollars in actual and potential savings. Here are some of the highlights.

POGO publicized over $893 billion in improper payments.

The American taxpayers lose hundreds of billions of dollars every year because the federal government makes payments to the wrong people or institutions, or in the wrong amount. For example, the government sometimes sends benefits to individuals who are deceased, or FEMA pays fraudulent claims following disasters like hurricanes. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t do enough to address the problem. In 2016, POGO completed a set of reports that publicized $893 billion in improper payments between FY 2008 and 2015. In our reports, we provided recommendations to identify and recover improper payments that potentially could save the government billions of dollars. Currently, POGO is advocating for a bipartisan bill, the Stopping Improper Payments to Dead People Act. This act would allow the Social Security Administration to share its database of deceased people with many other government agencies to reduce inaccurate payments to dead people.

In 2001, POGO’s reporting causes military to stop two wasteful weapons projects, saving $49 billion.

In a blistering set of reports sent to the White House in 2001 on the defense weapon acquisition process, POGO exposed how multiple weapon systems wasted taxpayer money and ultimately made us less safe. One example was the Crusader howitzer cannon, which entered into the acquisitions phase before United Defense finished its preliminary design. Our analysis cited a Government Accountability Office report that found the Crusader weighed too much, underwent shortcuts in testing, and was behind schedule. Another example was the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter, which suffered from many of the same problems. While military planners designed the helicopter to be inexpensive, the cost quickly ballooned from $12.1 million to $58.9 million a copy as the development cost increased and the testing schedule was delayed.

POGO investigation into F-35 leads to $21 billion to $40 billion in taxpayer savings.

Multiple POGO investigations have found serious problems in the F-35 program. In one report last year, we discovered that the Air Force wanted to leave several older F-35s unfinished because paying to update them would make it harder to buy new fighters. The Air Force bought the F-35s while still designing and testing the aircraft—a decision POGO and the Government Accountability Office have independently labeled as a major driver of increased cost. After POGO published its report, the Air Force decided to stop the plan, preventing between $21 billion and $40 billion in waste.

POGO investigations help get the Deepwater contract cancelled, saving $24 billion.

In 2007, POGO investigated a $24 billion Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman project to update the U.S. Coast Guard’s equipment that resulted in millions of wasted dollars. To save money, the Coast Guard initially allowed the two private contractors to oversee and manage the project. Relying on private contractors to conduct inherently governmental functions ultimately cost the Coast Guard millions, because the contractors made numerous design and technical mistakes. After POGO’s investigation, media attention, and several high-profile disasters, the Coast Guard took back management of the project, and later asked for a $96 million refund.

POGO reporting helps shut down the wasteful Superconducting Super Collider, saving $11 billion.

POGO led the way in campaigning to cancel the Superconducting Super Collider, a grossly over budget project run by contractors that took advantage of weak oversight and permissive spending guidelines to overcharge the federal government. According to invoices obtained by POGO, the principal subcontractor charged the government $21,369 for office plants in a year and $1,107 dollars for Christmas cards, among other waste. POGO’s investigation turned the Super Collider into the largest government project ever cancelled at that time, saving taxpayers roughly $11 billion dollars.

Our investigation into Boston’s “Big Dig” helps save taxpayers roughly $11 billion.

Even before Boston’s Harbor Tunnel Project, known as the Big Dig, became a national embarrassment, POGO investigated the devastating impact of private contractors spending billions of tax dollars to build a highway project with little federal or state oversight. The Big Dig started with a $2.3 billion budget but, with contractors given a free rein, it ballooned to around $24.3 billion as the project suffered from delays, bad planning, and mismanagement. Initially, federal taxpayers were on the hook for 80% of the funding, but POGO’s investigation helped reduce losses by getting Congress to freeze federal spending at $8.6 billion, saving federal taxpayers roughly $11 billion.

POGO helps cancel the F-22, saving $4.268 billion in one year.

Much like the F-35, the F-22 cost much more than advertised and drained resources from other critical Air Force priorities—like training pilots. Also like the F-35, POGO campaigned heavily to end the program. After almost a decade’s worth of reports, press releases, and conversations with Members of Congress and their staff, POGO finally succeeded in helping get the program shut down—thanks in large part to Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ). Cancelling the production of 240 F-22s saved taxpayers $4.268 billion that year alone.

POGO helps the government collect over $1 billion in additional oil royalties to date.

During the late 1990s, POGO investigators uncovered how the Interior Department ignored the fact that several oil companies chronically underpaid the Federal Treasury on royalties they owed for oil they extracted from public lands. In 1997, POGO filed a False Claims Act lawsuit against 16 major oil companies. By 2001, the companies settled the lawsuit. The U.S. Treasury recovered nearly half a billion dollars in unpaid royalty revenue, and began collecting $67 million more per year in royalties owed to the public.

POGO reporting causes Air Force to suspend bad Hamilton Sundstrand contract, saving $664 million.

Every year, POGO warns the government about no-bid contracts fleecing American taxpayers. In 2006, POGO investigators published a previously not-public Department of Defense Inspector General report finding that defense and aviation contractor Hamilton Sundstrand raised the price of several mechanical parts by nearly 900 percent with no reasonable justification. We wrote to Congress showing how contractors were taking advantage of acquisition regulation loopholes to reduce oversight. Our work led the Air Force to suspend the 9-year, $860 million dollar contract, saving taxpayers $664 million dollars.

POGO advocates for bipartisan compromise to reduce contractor compensation, saving $200 million per year.

Prior to 2013, an outdated law that was used to determine contractor compensation packages allowed some companies to receive excessively high executive salaries and benefits—at the expense of taxpayers. This system allowed contractors to receive more money than comparable employees in the federal government. After years of work by POGO, a bipartisan group of legislators voted to reduce the cap from $952,308 to $487,000, saving taxpayers $200 million per year.

POGO investigation helps Air Force save $168 million on C-130J military airlift contract.

The C-130J was a mechanically flawed cargo plane that cost more than expected and the Pentagon didn’t want. A 2005 POGO report highlighted that the Air Force dubiously labeled the C-130J a “commercial” item in order to decrease oversight, a decision that ultimately led to many of the C-130J’s problems. After the Pentagon said they didn’t need the plane, a group of influential military contractors and U.S. Senators lobbied hard to preserve the unnecessary aircraft. POGO worked with Senator McCain and other Members of Congress to restructure the C-130J contract and save taxpayers $168 million.

POGO helps publicize $100 million in fraud by Northrop Grumman.

In 2014, POGO investigators made public a Defense Department Inspector General report that found Northrop Grumman knowingly overcharged the federal government around $100 million for an anti-terrorism program. The U.S. Army contracting agency tasked with overseeing the contract was not conducting proper oversight—until whistleblowers, POGO, and the Defense Department Inspector General got involved. We highlighted how Northrop Grumman and its subcontractor DynCorp defrauded the government in multiple ways. They billed the government for more labor hours than there are in a day and for employees who lacked required education qualifications. They also classified one employee for seven different positions including “depot aircraft mechanic, a senior general engineer, an integrated logistics manager, a quality assurance manager, a program manager, a senior pilot, and a senior technical writer.”

POGO’s investigations into waste, fraud, and abuse of power by the federal government are a core part of the organization’s mission. We work with government insiders in order to sound the alarm on wrongdoing by government contractors and workers and to save taxpayer dollars—all on behalf of the public.

By: Nicholas Trevino
Communications Intern, POGO

Nicholas Trevino Nicholas Trevino is a Communications Intern at the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Government Accountability, Energy and Natural Resources, Contract Oversight

Related Content: C-130J Transport Aircraft, Improper Influence, Contractor Accountability, Miscellaneous, Crusader Howitzer, Revolving Door, Contractor Misconduct, Government Privatization, Effective Government, Undue Influence, Waste, Improper Payments

Authors: Nicholas Trevino

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