After Release of Watchdog Report, Ernst and Colleagues Call Out Government Agencies for Lack of Transparency, Failure to Disclose Costs to Taxpayers

The Senators are introducing legislation requiring every project supported with federal funds to publicly disclose their costs

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), who has worked to root out Washington’s wasteful spending and to “Make ‘em Squeal,” just introduced legislation requiring every project supported with federal funds to include a price tag that is easily available for taxpayers.

The Senator’s bill, called the Cost Openness and Spending Transparency (COST) Act comes on the heels of a watchdog investigation that was released today. The report found federal agencies are not abiding by current law requiring the full disclosure of costs for their taxpayer-funded projects. The legislation would give the administration the authority to withhold funding for a portion of a grant from recipients of government funding that are ignoring the law and not properly posting costs.

Ernst is joined by Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Rand Paul (R-KY) in introducing the COST Act.

“Taxpayers in Iowa, and across the nation, have a right to know exactly how their hard-earned dollars are being spent. While current law requires projects funded by some federal agencies to disclose the costs, my office has found that these agencies are largely ignoring the law and failing to comply,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “That’s unacceptable, and it’s exactly why I’ve teamed up with lawmakers to ensure that every federal agency discloses the exact costs of any project. The COST Act guarantees hardworking Iowans have easy access to see how their tax dollars are being spent, and gives them the ability to decide for themselves whether or not the price is right.”

“After just releasing the fourth volume of Federal Fumbles, which highlighted several questionable federal grants, American taxpayers deserve to know that Congress and federal agencies are providing proper oversight of the grant process to help protect against waste, fraud, and abuse,” said Senator Lankford. “The Stevens Amendment was intended to provide transparency of federal project costs. The Stevens Amendment requires Labor, HHS, and Ed grantees to include the total cost of the project and amount of federal funds used when they publish materials for public consumption. However, thanks to GAO we now know these federal agencies have not monitored grantee compliance with the Amendment. The COST Act is a commonsense, good governance bill that ensures the Stevens Amendment is properly followed by all federal agencies. I appreciate Senator Ernst’s continued work to help fight federal waste and protect taxpayers.”

“If we want to stop wasteful government spending, we must ensure the American people can more easily find out exactly how it uses their money. Through the COST Act, and other transparency efforts such as my Waste Report, we can empower Americans to better hold government accountable for its choices,” said Senator Paul.

Background:

The COST Act requires every project supported with federal funds to include a price tag with its cost to taxpayers. Under this legislation, both the dollar amount and the percentage of the overall budget for any project, program, or activity would be disclosed in all public documents. To guarantee compliance, the COST Act gives authority to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to withhold a portion of a grant from a recipient that does not disclose the costs.

Current law requires most projects funded with taxpayer money provided by the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education to disclose costs. Senator Ernst recently requested a review by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look into why recipients of federal funds are not disclosing the cost of their projects, as required.

In the report released today, the GAO found these federal agencies aren’t monitoring or enforcing compliance and do not believe that it is their responsibility to do so. Senator Ernst's office found a number of questionable National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported studies that do not provide the cost to taxpayers as required by law. Below is a short summary of some of these non-compliant studies. You can find a more detailed summary HERE

The Cat’s Meow:

  • Ten different cat studies supported by NIH grants totaling $1.3 million found that cats pampered with treats and classical music every day are less likely to poop outside of the litter box or cough up hairballs.  Senator Ernst awarded NIH her January Squeal Award for these “catty” studies.

The Batman Effect:

  • According to research funded from a $405,000 NIH grant and additional support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), researchers found that when encouraged to put on a cape and pretend to be Batman, kids were less distracted from doing a boring assignment.

Elvis Sightings:

  • A study on false perception concluded that a sour cream and onion flavored potato chip resembling Elvis Presley was funded by a $90,000 NIH grant with additional support from the NSF.

Picky Pigeons:

  • Supported by a $256,000 NIH grant, researchers found that sunflower seeds are the most pleasing food to the palates of pigeons, followed by popcorn and peanuts, according to a taste test of seven different foods involving eight pigeons.

Gambling Pigeons:

  • A slot-machine of sorts was developed for pigeons, with flashing lights just like in a real casino and pellets as the payout, as part of a study to test the birds’ “affinity for gambling.” Supported with grants from NIH totaling nearly $1.3 million, researchers trained the birds how to gamble. The poker-faced pigeons were found to behave like “pathological gamblers.” 

The Catwalk:

  • Returning to a fur-miliar subject, NIH funded another study to determine “how do cats manage to walk so graciously on top of narrow fences or windowsills high above the ground while apparently exerting little effort?” With support from a $178,000 NIH grant, ten cats were literally put on a catwalk and another was trained to strut on a treadmill. The purr-pose for spending tax dollars on this study may leave many Americans purr-plexed.

Click HERE to see the official GAO report.

Click HERE for a summary of S. 807, the COST Act.

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