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Government Reform

The Late Edition: September 10, 2012
Posted By:  - 09/10/12

Today’s Taxpayers News!

With Congress returning to Washington this week, it is an important time for fiscally conservative advocates to continue pushing lawmakers to pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) without stripping it of key provisions. NTU’s Pete Sepp, Liberty Coalition’s Michael Ostrolenk, and Government Accountability Project’s Tom Devine, have all been vocal proponents of getting Congress to pass an effective version of the WPEA.

If one Virginia lawmaker had his way, corporate income tax in the Old Dominion would be scrapped all together, making Virginia the sixth state to move towards more business friendly and pro-growth policies.

The fight against Gov. John Kasich’s plan to increase taxes on oil and gas production in Ohio is getting more heated.

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Another Obama Success: Getting Rid Of Beneficial Programs!
Posted By:  - 07/20/12

With a swipe of his pen, President Obama single handedly wiped out years of extremely successful welfare reform. The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 replaced the former welfare system, Aide to Families With Dependent Children, with TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). The crux of this replacement was that it required anyone receiving welfare to be working. The Heritage Foundation offers a good analysis:

 The welfare reform law was very successful. In the four decades prior to welfare reform, the welfare caseload never experienced a significant decline. But, in the four years after welfare reform, the caseload dropped by nearly half. Employment surged and child poverty among affected groups plummeted. The driving force behind these improvements was the rigorous new federal work requirements contained in the TANF law.

 Working for money. To most, this is common sense, but to the president it is unacceptable to make anyone work for OTHER people’s tax dollars; they should be simply have the money handed to them. If money is handed to you, where is the incentive to work? There is no incentive, which is why those on welfare never got off of it until they actually had to start working. It may seem so simple to the average American, but apparently there are some in Washington who need an Econ 101 class refresher.

 Not only was the program extremely successful, but also written into the bill was a specific line that said these work requirements could not be waived. We cannot allow our President to dictate what he does and does not like about our democratic system with nothing more than a slash of his pen. He must be held accountable. So, to review, President Obama illegally got rid of a successful and extremely popular program that was nothing but beneficial to the economy. Someone get this man a prize.

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Book Review: Taxpayers Don't Stand A Chance
Posted By:  - 06/29/12

Matt Mayer, a friend of NTU and former President of Ohio’s terrific Buckeye Institute, has written an enlightening book describing the political failures of an important battleground state and the resulting national implications. The book, Taxpayers Don’t Stand A Chance, is a detailed look at why Ohio, once a leader in the national economy, has been in decline in recent years. Mayer provides countless examples to demonstrate how politicians are putting their own interests first and the fallout in the Buckeye State and the rest of the country.

 Taxpayers Don’t Stand a Chance takes an in-depth look at how bias in the media provides voters with a lack of coverage for conservative ideas. The difficulty of publicizing free-market ideas helps create an environment where politicians remain loyal to unions and special interests at the expense of taxpayers. Mayer also highlights the importance of Ohio as a notorious “swing state” in Presidential elections and other national policy matters.

 The book is a brilliant description of the serious problems facing Ohio, how they impact the rest of the country, and what taxpayers in the state and across the country can do about it. It is a must-read for anyone interested in politics as well as those who are concerned about the direction America is heading in. In a characteristically selfless move, Mayer will donate all of the proceeds from the book to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library.

 Ohio, like many Midwestern states, faces tremendous fiscal and economic challenges in its future. Matt Mayer’s Taxpayers Don’t Stand a Chance is a great explanation of how the state got to where it is today, and how it might navigate toward smoother sailing in the future.

For more information on Taxpayers Don’t Stand A Chance go to: www.facebook.com/taxpayersdontstandachance

 and to purchase a copy: http://www.amazon.com/Taxpayers-Dont-Stand-Chance-Battleground/dp/1469985098/ref=pd_rhf_ee_p_t_2

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GAO: The Government's Eternal Optimist
Posted By: Demian Brady - 05/24/12

The Government Accountability Office, also known as the "congressional watchdog", is charged with reviewing the work of federal agencies and reporting their findings to the House and Senate. Most of their reports have a common theme: if only the federal agencies had more resources or better management and oversight, they would be be able to fulfill their responsibilities and wouldn't waste so much money. A sampling of the titles of their recent reports and testimonies give an indication that the government is failing or showing a mediocre performance on many fronts, but GAO's analysts excel at finding ways to put as positive a spin as they can on wasteful or redundant programs:

  • Information Technology Reform: Progress Made; More Needs to Be Done to Complete Actions and Measure Results.
  • Uranium Mining: Opportunities Exist to Improve Oversight of Financial Assurances.
  • Bureau of the Public Debt: Areas for Improvement in Information Systems Controls.
  • Defense Management: Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies.
  • Homelessness: Fragmentation and Overlap in Programs Highlight the Need to Identify, Assess, and Reduce Inefficiencies.
  • Indigent Defense: DOJ Could Increase Awareness of Eligible Funding and Better Determine the Extent to Which Funds Help Support This Purpose.
  • Workplace Safety and Health: Better OSHA Guidance Needed on Safety Incentive Programs.
  • Department of Health and Human Services: Opportunities for Financial Savings and Program Improvements in Medicare and Medicaid Remain.
  • Social Security Administration: Technology Modernization Needs Improved Planning and Performance Measures.
  • Defense Inventory: Actions Underway to Implement Improvement Plan, but Steps Needed to Enhance Efforts.
  • Defense Logistics: Improvements Needed to Enhance DOD's Management Approach and Implementation of Item Unique Identification Technology.
  • Limited Data Available on USDA and Interior Attorney Fee Claims and Payments.
  • Tactical Aircraft: F-22A Modernization Program Faces Cost, Technical, and Sustainment Risks. 
  • Federal Telework: Program Measurement Continues to Confront Data Reliability Issues.
  • Workplace Safety and Health: Multiple Challenges Lengthen OSHA's Standard Setting.
  • Housing Choice Vouchers: Options Exist to Increase Program Efficiencies.
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems: Improved DOT Collaboration and Communication Could Enhance the Use of Technology to Manage Congestion.
  • DOD Financial Management: Implementation Weaknesses in Army and Air Force Business Systems Could Jeopardize DOD's Auditability Goals.
  • Defense Health Care: Applying Key Management Practices Should Help Achieve Efficiencies within the Military Health System.
  • U.S. Postal Service: Mail Processing Network Exceeds What Is Needed for Declining Mail Volume.
  • Federal Advisory Groups: DOT and DOE Can Take Steps to Better Assess Duplication Risk and Enhance Usefulness.
  • Operational Contract Support: Management and Oversight Improvements Needed in Afghanistan.
  • Mortgage Financing: FHA and Ginnie Mae Face Risk-Management Challenges.
  • Endangered Sea Turtles: Better Coordination, Data Collection, and Planning Could Improve Federal Protection and Recovery Efforts.
  • Department of Homeland Security: Continued Progress Made Improving and Integrating Management Areas, but More Work Remains.
  • Fiscal Year 2011 U.S. Government Financial Statements: The Federal Government Faces Continuing Financial Management and Long-Term Fiscal Challenges.

Something to ponder next time you here a politician talking about the need for a new federal program when we can't effectively operate many of those already established.

 

 

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NTUF Release GOP Presidential Candidates Studies
Posted By:  - 04/26/12

In case you missed it...


Study of GOP Candidates’ Platforms Finds Romney Proposes Double Gingrich’s Budgetary Savings; Paul’s Blueprint for Cuts Dwarfs Others’ Plans

(Alexandria, VA)Mitt Romney’s spending cut agenda is twice as large as Newt Gingrich’s, while Ron Paul proposes double the reductions of his nearest challenger. Those are just some of the key findings of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s (NTUF’s) in-depth, line-by-line analysis of the 2012 GOP contenders’ federal budget proposals. NTUF has conducted studies of Presidential and Senatorial candidates’ fiscal policy platforms for more than a decade.

NTUF analyzed all of the candidates’ key proposals outlined on their websites, in their official campaign documents, and touted in speeches. By referencing these plans with equivalent bills in Congress, items in the federal budget, and a variety of other cost sources, NTUF builds a comprehensive picture of the bottom line impact of the candidates’ budget-focused proposals. Some cost estimates are based on NTUF’s BillTally system, which since 1991 has served as a resource on thousands of pieces of legislation introduced each year that could affect federal expenditures.

All told, NTUF identified 151 proposals among the four Republican Presidential office seekers with a potential impact on annual federal outlays. Ninety-four of those impacts could not be accurately determined, generally because the candidates failed to provide sufficient detail to pinpoint a cost.

2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Spending Analysis

Type of Proposal

Newt
Gingrich

Ron
Paul

Mitt
Romney

Rick
Santorum

Spending Increase

6

2

3

6

Spending Cut

6

6

11

16

Unknown Cost

27

13

28

27

TOTAL

39

21

42

49


Source:  National Taxpayers Union Foundation

According to NTUF, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney’s platform would reduce federal outlays by a net of $353.0 billion annually, Newt Gingrich’s extensive policy plans would shed $146.2 billion from the budget, and Rick Santorum had $670.6 billion in cuts on his radar prior to ending his campaign. Ron Paul seeks $1.2 trillion in yearly net reductions.

2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Spending Analysis

(Dollar Amounts are in Billions)

Spending Category

Newt
Gingrich

Ron
Paul

Mitt
Romney

Rick
Santorum

Economy, Transportation & Infrastructure

-$4.565

-$4.565

-$4.3

-$4.565

Education, Science & Research

-$60.056

N/A

N/A

$0.144

Energy, Agriculture & Environment

-$40.561

-$5.953

Unknown

-$2.465

Federal Government Reform

Unknown

-$1,173.0

-$383.409

-$647.158

Health Care

-$41.155

-$40.235

-$136.098

-$42.655

Homeland Security & Law Enforcement

$0.120

Unknown

Unknown

$1.148

National Security & International Relations

$0.052

Unknown

$170.802

$30.591

Veterans

Unknown

$2.704

N/A

N/A

Miscellaneous

N/A

N/A

N/A

-$5.637

TOTAL

-$146.165

-$1,221.0

-$353.005

-$670.597


Note:  Totals may not add due to rounding.

Source:  National Taxpayers Union Foundation

Key findings include:

  • Romney's plans to reform the federal government -- including proposals to limit federal spending to 20 percent of GDP and to reduce the number of government workers over time -- would save taxpayers an estimated $383.4 billion per year. The area in which Romney would propose the largest budget increase is national security with a boost of $170.8 billion. (PDF version)
  • Ron Paul’s single largest savings item is his multi-pronged effort to balance the budget – at $1.078 trillion in reductions, it is a stark reminder of the size of the current federal budget deficit. (PDF version)
  • Newt Gingrich’s moon base plans would cost at least $4 billion per year. His vision for new rocket propulsion technology could not be quantified at this time. (PDF version)
  • Rick Santorum’s largest individual savings item was signing off on a version of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, which would save $519.6 billion per year. A major assumption was that Santorum would abide by the terms of the Amendment he backed, which calls for limiting total federal expenditures to 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product. (PDF version)

“The field of candidates has often changed over the past year, but their ideas for federal spending and savings will continue to be debated as the campaign season evolves,” concluded NTUF’s Director of Congressional Analysis Jeff Dircksen. “Through it all, NTUF will be monitoring the candidates’ proposals – including those of President Obama – to inform the vital national conversation about the future direction of Washington’s fiscal policy.”

Note: The detailed NTUF analyses of Mitt Romney’s, Newt Gingrich’s, Ron Paul’s and Rick Santorum’s federal budget policy platforms are available online at www.ntu.org.

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Petition: STOP the World Bank from Silencing Whistleblowers on Your Dime!
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 03/02/12

The National Taxpayers Union and Government Accountability Project have joined together to sponsor a petition to tell the Treasury Department that is is not acceptable to continue to funnel U.S. taxpayer money to International development banks with woefully inadequate whistleblower protections.

Did you know whistleblowers detected more economic crimes than corporate security, internal audits, fraud risk management and law enforcement combined? This force for responsible accounting and management is desperately needed in corrupt institutions like the World Bank.

Last December, while U.S. taxpayers were doing their holiday shopping, Congress quietly approved more than $35 billion in bailouts to international development banks. These multilateral development banks (MDBs) are immune from national oversight and laws, both here and abroad. They are riddled with corruption and blatantly resist any meaningful internal governance reform. Experts estimate that between $26 –$130 billion have been lost to corruption at the World Bank alone since its founding, to say nothing of the other MDBs.

Tell Tim Geithner and the Treasury Department that enough is enough! According to a federal law that was passed in December, before the U.S. can contribute tens of billions of dollars in cold cash and guarantees to the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the African Development Bank, the Treasury Department must report that each institution is making substantial progress toward implementing certain reforms – including best practice whistleblower protections.

The Treasury is responsible for reporting on the progress of these banks in implementing the required reforms - if Treasury does not stand up for taxpayers, the flow of your money will start again. Don't let that happen! Help NTU and the GAP send a message to the Treasury Department, sign our petition and together we can stop the World Bank and Tim Geithner from sending your money to corrupt extra-national bank officials.

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NTU Rates Congress and Presidential Candidates
Posted By: Andrew Moylan - 02/24/12

*Important note: NTU has not endorsed and will not be endorsing any Presidential candidate, nor is this post intended to suggest support or opposition for any Presidential candidate.*

There's been a lot of attention paid to NTU's annual Rating of Congress recently with regard to the Republican Presidential candidates. Since 1979, NTU has performed an annual Rating of Congress where we look at every vote on tax and fiscal policy, weight it from 1 to 100 based on importance, and calculate a percentage score indicating a Member's support for limited government (We did ratings before 1979 too but used a "key vote" system that's not directly comparable to our modern Rating). You can look at the entire record post-1992 (the year we began issuing letter grades) on our website, and our 2011 analysis will be available in a few weeks.

To clarify the record given the recent coverage, we released this statement yesterday where we published the entire Rating history for Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich going back to 1979.

In last night's debate, Rick Santorum cited NTU in an exchange with Ron Paul...

"Ron, The Weekly Standard just did a review, looking at the National Taxpayers Union, I think, Citizens Against Government Waste, and they measured me up against the other 50 senators who were serving when I did and they said that I was the most fiscally conservative senator in the Congress in the -- in the 12 years that I was there.

My -- my ratings with the National Taxpayers Union were As or Bs."

The analysis to which Santorum is referring was performed by Jeffrey Anderson, a writer for the conservative Weekly Standard. Anderson did a couple of interesting things with the data, some of which I think are insightful and some of which I think are misguided. I'll try to lay my thoughts out in detail here, but it would really behoove you to go read his piece first for reference.

The first thing Anderson did was to confine his comparison of Santorum only to other Senators that served the entirety of his twelve year tenure in the Senate (from 1995 to 2006). While I suppose he would say he was trying to compare apples to apples, I think the end result is a bit of data cherry-picking which paints Santorum in a more positive light than would otherwise be the case. This restriction necessarily compares Santorum only to long-serving Senators, many of whom (like Robert Byrd or Daniel Akaka) had decidedly poor records based on NTU's metrics.

Anderson also converted each Senator's letter grade to a "grade point average," not unlike that which terrified you during your high school days. Anderson's conversion yielded a GPA of 3.66 on a 4-point scale for Santorum, a result which sounds quite good to anyone who remembers college applications. The problem with this is that it converts a short-hand measurement intended to give readers a general sense of a Senator's voting record to a precise number when our analysis already has precise numbers that do a better job. For example, Santorum's lifetime average score out of a maximum of 100% was 75.2%, including his House and Senate years. His Senate-only average was about 77.7%.

Another very instructive metric that doesn't garner quite enough attention, in my view, is the average rank. In addition to letter grades and percentage scores, we indicate how a Member compared to his or her peers by including their rank within the Chamber. To illustrate how useful it can be, look at Santorum's last year in the Senate, 2006. He received a grade of B+ and a score of 80%, but how did that compare with his peers? Well, it yielded a rank of 27th out of 100 Senators, meaning that 26 Senators had more conservative voting records that year and 72 had less conservative voting records. Santorum's average rank in the Senate was 19.5, which reflects a decent record (after all, he never received a grade worse than a B) but also one with a fair amount of variance (he ranked as high as 3rd overall in 2002 and as low as 33rd overall in 1999). Perhaps I'm biased because I work on the Rating, but I think these numbers are more instructive than the converted short-hand GPA from Anderson's analysis.

Beyond these quirks, Anderson actually did something quite interesting in comparing Santorum's voting record to how conservative (or not conservative, in this case) his state was...

"Based on how each state voted in the three presidential elections over that period (1996, 2000, and 2004), nearly two-thirds of senators represented states that were to the right of Pennsylvania.  In those three presidential elections, Pennsylvania was, on average, 3 points to the left of the nation as a whole.  Pennsylvanians backed the Democratic presidential nominee each time, while the nation as a whole chose the Republican in two out of three contests.

Among the roughly one-third of senators (18 out of 50) who represented states that — based on this measure — were at least as far to the left as Pennsylvania, Santorum was the most fiscally conservative.  Even more telling was the canyon between him and the rest.  After Santorum’s overall 3.66 GPA, the runner-up GPA among this group was 2.07, registered by Olympia Snowe (R., Maine).  Arlen Specter, Santorum’s fellow Pennsylvania Republican, was next, with a GPA of 1.98.  The average GPA among senators who represented states at least as far left as Pennsylvania was 0.52 — or barely a D-.

But Santorum also crushed the senators in the other states.  Those 32 senators, representing states that on average were 16 points to the right of Pennsylvania in the presidential elections, had an average GPA of 2.35 — a C+."

This is a rather novel way to look at things, and one I'd admit hadn't really occurred to me before. It is, of course, true that a Republican Senator from Utah can "afford" to vote in a much more conservative manner than a Republican Senator from Massachusetts and still keep his or her job. The cynic in me decries the fact that politicians test the winds before casting votes, but it is an undeniable fact of life and it manifests itself time and again in Congress.

While I've spent most of this post talking about Rick Santorum, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Ron Paul, with whom Santorum had the debate exchange. On our Congressional Rating, Ron Paul is almost without peer. His lifetime average is over 90%, he has snagged the top spot four times, ranked 2nd overall seven times and has never ranked lower than 10th overall in the House. In other words, in his "worst" year on our Rating, he still had a more fiscally conservative voting record than 425 out of 435 Representatives. I haven't done any in-depth analysis on this question, but the only Members I can think of that could claim to equal his performance would be Jeff Flake (92.4% lifetime average, 1st overall eight years in a row, never lower than 2nd overall) and Jim Sensenbrenner (85.9% lifetime average, 1st overall twice, 2nd overall four times, never lower than 13th overall).

The only issues I can think of on which Ron Paul might have harmed (obviously only by a very small amount) his Rating would be free trade agreements (which he generally votes against and NTU supports) and the myriad earmark elimination amendments that Jeff Flake carried from 2006-2009 (which NTU supported and he generally voted against). But on the whole, his record is exemplary.

Hopefully this is helpful in adding to the debate, and stay tuned for our 2011 Congressional Rating release in a few weeks.

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Nanny State Program Faces the Ax
Posted By: Andrew Moylan - 12/15/11

An impossibly ridiculous program that has wasted millions of your tax dollars funding nanny state campaigns to pester you about health might finally be at death's door. The "Prevention and Public Health Fund" (which I warned about more than a year and a half ago when it had a different name and piles of cash from the "stimulus" bill) looks to finally face the ax at the hands of the House of Representatives when it votes tomorrow on the massive $1 trillion "megabus" appropriations bill.

H.R. 3671, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, takes aim at the PPHF and its funding of state- and local-level campaigns for higher taxes and stricter regulation on everything from soda to tobacco products. Though they are of course justified in the name of "public health," the PPHF-funded efforts have spent millions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars in support of a host of policies that raise costs and restrict availability for perfectly legal products while nagging people to exercise more and eat their Brussels sprouts. Kudos to House appropriators (you won't hear me saying that very often) for seeing fit to include language in the megabus to put an end to this insanity.

The "slippery slope" argument that is so frequently deployed in Washington isn't always accurate, but the PPHF is perhaps the best example that it not only exists but is even steeper and more slippery than we could have imagined. Decades ago when the anti-tobacco crusade really began in earnest, many limited-government advocates warned that it would only be a matter of time before government began trying to tax into extinction and restrict other products with which they were displeased. Those warnings are proving prescient now that many states and localities are fighting battles not just against so-called "sin" products like tobacco or alcohol, but on fatty foods, sugar-sweetened drinks, even SALT for God's sake! But the PPHF really takes the cake (as long as cake is still legal, that is) because in many cases, those dollars are handed out to lobbyists and PR firms to run glitzy ad campaigns to snuff out whatever products or behaviors Big Brother doesn't like. Tax dollars funding lobbyists who fight to raise your taxes! It's a spiral of stupidity.

Thankfully, House Leadership has seen that insanity for what it is and targeted it in the appropriations bill. Here's hoping that, whatever happens with the end-of-the-year appropriations fight, common sense prevails and the PPHF gets what it deserves: elimination. After all, if Congress can't cut a program this egregious, what can they cut?

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IRS Has Serious Internal Control Deficiencies, Says GAO
Posted By:  - 11/15/11

A guest post from our good friend Tim Wise at ACTA.

The U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) has completed its audit of the IRS's Fiscal Years 2011 and 2010 Financial Statements (summary, 1-page highlights and full report, both require Adobe). As the GAO reports, "IRS is a large and complex organization, posing unique operational and financial management challenges for its management. IRS employs over 100,000 people in its Washington, D.C., headquarters and over 700 offices in all 50 states and U.S. territories and in some U.S. embassies and consulates."

In the report highlights, GAO wrote that it found:

"In GAO's opinion, IRS's fiscal years 2011 and 2010 financial statements are fairly presented in all material respects. However, serious internal control and financial management systems deficiencies continued to make it necessary for IRS to use resource-intensive compensating processes to prepare its balance sheet. Because of these and other internal control, compliance, and system-related deficiencies, IRS did not, in GAO's opinion, maintain effective internal control over financial reporting as of September 30, 2011, and thus did not have reasonable assurance that losses and misstatements material to the financial statements would be prevented or detected and corrected timely."

While GAO said that "IRS continued to make strides in addressing its deficiencies in internal control," it also said:

"However, deficiencies remain concerning (1) material weaknesses in internal control over unpaid tax assessments and information security, (2) a significant deficiency in its internal control over tax refund disbursements, (3) a noncompliance with the law concerning the timely release of tax liens, and (4) financial management systems' lack of substantial compliance with FFMIA requirements . . . ."

GAO also points out that 182 recommendations remain "open" from its prior audits of IRS's financial statements. Here is how GAO reports that in more detail on page 14:

"We have reported on IRS's internal control weaknesses in prior audits and have provided IRS recommendations to address these and other less-significant issues. As of the date of this report, 182 recommendations related to our financial statement audits were still open, of which 10 relate to the material weakness in internal control over unpaid tax assessments, 105 relate to the material weakness in internal control over information security, and 9 relate to issues encompassed by the significant deficiency in internal control over tax refund disbursements. For more details on the material weaknesses and the significant deficiency identified as a result of our audit, see appendix I."

IRS's "management discussion and analysis" begins on page 23, which contains a great deal of informative data about the IRS, including a number of charts and tables. The financial statements begin on page 58.

HT Tax Prof Blog.

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Chris Carey of JunketSleuth.com on "Speaking of Taxpayers"
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 10/31/11

Junket Sleuth (JunketSleuth.com) is a website devoted to exposing government travel perks and expenses through Freedom of Information Act requests. The head of this journalistic effort is Christopher Carey, and he joined Pete and Doug on last week's "Speaking of Taxpayers."

Make sure to visit Junket Sleuth for more information, another round of new government travel spending revelations is coming soon.

Subscribe to NTU's podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes by clicking here.

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