Originally created 09/30/00

Money down the drain



Bookkeeping and accounting procedures aren't getting any better at the U.S. Department of Education. Earlier this year DOE couldn't account to Congress how it spent a whopping $500 million - some analysts say it was more like $700 million.

DOE officials testified they deposited the money in the wrong Treasury account and disbursed it without leaving a paper trail. Whoosh - more than half a billion dollars in taxpayer money down the drain.

Last week Congress learned more nightmare tales about DOE money. Agency officials could not explain how $1.9 million earmarked for children on military bases and Indian reservations ended up in various Maryland bank accounts; or why withdrawals in cashiers' checks showed that $50,000 of it was spent on a new Lincoln Navigator, $49,900 on a new Cadillac Escalade, and $135,000 on a house in Maryland.

Is the stench of theft of government money in the air? That's being looked into, but for now U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., vice chairman of the oversight subcommittee that quizzed confused DOE Chief Inspector Lorraine Lewis, found it "outrageous that some of our nation's schoolchildren can't have decent books to read while Education Department officials ride around in Lincolns and Cadillacs..."

DOE's problems with handling money is not of recent vintage - it has had trouble tracing funds and clearing audits since 1994. It just seems to get worse every year.

DOE Secretary Dick Riley, who had a successful tenure as South Carolina governor in the 1980s, hasn't gotten to first base cleaning up his department. The agency is still on the General Accounting Office's "high risk" list for waste, fraud and abuse.

But here's the kicker. DOE's annual budget is currently at about $40 billion and presidential candidate Al Gore seeks to pour tens of billions more into the agency. His Big Government education plans would cost up to $115 billion over the next decade.

Given DOE's well documented history of misplacing, mismanaging and misappropriating untold billions of taxpayers' money, this would just be throwing good money after bad.