Down the U.S. Department of Education
revelations demonstrate clearly what many of us have maintained
all along about waste and fraud at the federal level. In this case,
the culprit is the U.S. Department of Education, created in the
late 1970s by then-President Jimmy Carter. An article that appeared
earlier this month in the Augusta Chronicle, based in Augusta,
Georgia, documents how the Department of Education has lost almost
half a billion federal government (i.e., taxpayer) dollars due to
waste, fraud and accounting errors, according to DOE Inspector General
Lorraine Lewis. I doubt such an article would have appeared in pro-expanded-government
publications like the New York Times or the Washington
following facts were revealed by Lewis and reported by the Augusta
last September (presumably when it first dawned on the watch-clerks
in the DOE that something was amiss) 21 employees wrote roughly
19,000 checks for as much as $10,000 a piece without supervision;
the amount unaccounted for totaled $23 million.
money, in the form of checks totaling $250 million, was issued
twice to the same recipients on more than 20 separate occasions.
went on spending sprees with government (i.e., taxpayer) money
using government credit cards. Most were allowed credit limits
as high as $10,000 per month. This applies to about 230 employees.
A few others had limits going up to $25,000 per month and two
were able to charge $300,000 per month.
employees were sometimes spending these taxpayer dollars on
items for personal use, including cell phones, computers and
software expenditures cites as "inappropriate"
according to the DOE’s own rules.
141 credit card statements (of 676 that were audited), including
those with purchases valued as high as $1 million, were not
signed by supervisors.
dollars intended for certain purposes was diverted by employees
for private use. Some $2 million intended for Native American
children and the children of those in the military were found
to have been spent on new automobiles, real estate, etc. The
Augusta Chronicle reports that much of this money has
now been recovered in a civil lawsuit.
employees of the DOE recently pleaded guilty to stealing $1
million in equipment and giving false reports of working overtime.
is worth emphasizing the taxpayer in "taxpayer dollars"
rather than simply calling it government money. I recall Milton
Friedman’s quietly pointing out that "the government doesn’t
have any money." Except, of course, what it gets from taxpayers,
i.e., you and I, who have real jobs, own businesses, etc. In light
of these revelations, one Congressman, U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood
(R-Ga.) has actually suggested that the U.S. Department of Education
be shut down "at least until the financial problems
are straightened out."
problems, though, are worse than the loss or outright theft of taxpayer
dollars. During the period the U.S. Department of Education has
been in existence, the problems in government schools have worsened,
not improved. Test scores have fallen; discipline problems have
risen to the point where many students and even teachers no longer
feel safe in them. When I was in high school in the early 1970s,
metal detectors at the main entrances of schools was unheard of.
So were school shootings.
schools, moreover, are more and more subject to political agendas
such as the efforts to purge Confederate symbols – resulting in
teenagers being sent home for wearing T-shirts with such symbols
on them. Some of what goes on in government schools is now so silly
one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Consider the female principal
at a Maryland school who has
issued an injunction against students playing tag. Too rough
on the little tykes – especially when boys are allowed to play freely.
Political agendas, though, not education, are the specialties of
bureaucrats and affirmative action charity cases. They assume paramount
importance whenever genuine education is no longer a priority item.
Students, of course, are the real, long term losers.
a kind of temporary shut-down "until the problems are straightened
out" does not go far enough. It will not go far enough until
we look at the U.S. Department of Education in light of the U.S.
Constitution, and in light of the fact that these kinds of problems
are endemic to centralization in federal agencies and cannot be
resolved by this or that quick-fix.
Constitution nowhere mentions education as a federal responsibility.
It nowhere authorizes any U.S. president, any federal body or any
agency to set up and micromanage a system of schools. In other words,
Jimmy Carter created the Department of Education without any Constitutional
authorization whatsoever! The current problems are nothing more,
and nothing less, than a product of federal government run amuck
freed from restraints that would remain in place if we lived
in a Constitutional republic.
are other problems besides Constitutional ones. There is no reason
to think that the federal government can run schools and make them
effective simply by throwing more taxpayer dollars at them. An old
truth holds: social problems, whether in education or anywhere
else, are most likely to be identified and properly addressed at
the most local level possible. This truth has been largely lost
in our era of centralization, bureaucracy and Empire. Expenditures
on education at the state and local levels make some sense, because
state and local officials have far more contact with the communities
they serve. If they screw up, they can be held accountable at the
ballot box unlike Washington bureaucrats. At the local level,
many of these officials live either in or in close enough proximity
to the communities they serve that they have even stronger incentive
to address real issues and problems because what they do affects
them (and their children) directly. How on Earth can federal bureaucrats,
based hundreds or even thousands of miles away in the capitol city
of the Washington Empire, be effective at solving problems that
differ somewhat from locality to locality even if they have
the best of intentions?
the U.S. Department of Education like many other things the
federal government does that are nowhere found in the Constitution
has become an almost untouchable sacred cow. Educrats will
denounce anyone suggesting the agency be eliminated as "against
education." No, what we are against is not education but an
intrusive, inept and unconstitutional bureaucracy. The Republican
Party of roughly a decade ago seemed to have understood this. There
were moves afoot in the early 1990s to eliminate the agency. No
more. As the country, including the neocon-dominated Republican
Party, has more and more accepted centralization as its overriding
political and economic philosophy, agencies entrusted with micromanaging
this or that activity from Washington have become untouchable. The
media reinforce this, with their bland acceptance of expansionist
government despite repeated revelations of waste, corruption and
negligence. Educators themselves frequently don’t help. They like
the federal grant money that comes their way. How many projects
are now completely dependent on federal grants?
of the amount of disinformation, a person who ran for national office
today on a campaign platform calling for eliminating the U.S. Department
of Education would probably not have a chance. The person would
not be able to obtain the support of either of the two dominant
political parties (the others, it is clear, do not have the resources
to mount credible campaigns capable of winning national elections).
Moreover, such a candidate would be attacked mercilessly by well-funded,
left-leaning teachers’ unions such as the National Education Association
and the American Federation of Teachers. Finally, it is not clear
that such an effort would have the support of the public, large
segments of which either don’t care or have fallen hook, line and
sinker for the idea that problems can be better solved when the
federal government takes them over. It is ironic that so many people
lament paying the highest federal taxes in U.S. history but wouldn’t
like it at all when responsibility for what these tax dollars buy
(somewhat well-kept roads and highway systems, for example) falls
to the state and local levels and ultimately to themselves. This
is one of the phenomena of modern education: many people, educated
in government schools, simply cannot make these connections. And
so they court politicians who favor more and more government, making
sure the "freebies" stay in place. The "freebies"
include, of course, "free" government schools as an entitlement.
over 200 years ago, the historian Alexander Tyler predicted our
current state of affairs when he observed that "[a] democracy
cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist
until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess
out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always
votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public
treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over
loose fiscal policy always followed by dictatorship."
is why the Framers did not really create a democracy but a Constitutional
republic, based on the idea of limiting the federal government
to a few, clearly identified functions which did not include setting
up and running schools. How, or even whether, we can get the country
back to that particular form of government remains the most formidable
challenge of our time particularly when many of the products
of government schools have been trained to identify such ideas as
Yates [send him mail]
has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action. He is presently
compiling selected essays into a single volume tentatively entitled
What Is Wrong With the New World Order and Other Essays and
Commentary and a work on a second book, The Paradox of Liberty.
He also writes for the Edgefield
Journal, and is available for lectures. He lives in Columbia,
South Carolina, and is starting his own freelance writing business,
Millennium 3 Communications.
© 2001 LewRockwell.com