"By pursuing his own interest [every individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good." ~ Adam Smith
Federal Register Watch
What freedoms have you lost this week?
The Federal Register is the official daily publication for Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as Executive Orders and other Presidential Documents. This column attempts to summarize the highlights (or lowlights) of the Federal Register during the preceding week.
Instructions for subscribing to the Federal Register can be found at the end of the column.
JUNE 23, 2003:
MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET OFFICE ' ELECTRONIC POSTING OF FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES
This directive requires Federal agencies to electronically post announcements of funding opportunities under financial assistance programs that award discretionary grants and cooperative agreements.
Giving away other people's money might be the one thing that the federal government does well.
JUNE 24, 2003:
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF CORRECTIONS ' INSTITUTIONAL CULTURAL INITIATIVE (ICI) GRANT
This notice announces the availability of $150,000 for the ICI Grant, an 'instrument and protocol for assessing organizational culture in prisons.' The grant is directed at addressing problems of 'staff sexual misconduct, excessive violence, and high staff turnover rates' that are prevalent in the government-run prison system.
Like many government grants, this proposal includes a myriad of fancy slogans and intellectual catch phrases that promise great results if the guidelines are followed. This makes the program sound critical enough to justify the spending.
For example, the three main intervention strategies of the ICI's 'Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument' (OCAI) include 'Strategic Planning, Management and Response,' 'Leading and Sustaining Change,' and 'Intensive Technical Assistance.'
Government grant writers are experts at the art of 'creating' something out of nothing.
JUNE 25, 2003:
FOOD AND NUTRITION SERVICE ' ELECTRONIC BENEFIT TRANSFER (EBT) PORTABILITY
This rule revises the Food Stamp Program regulations to ensure that recipients can use their electronic food stamp benefits across state borders. Federal funding (via taxpayer largesse) will pay for the operational cost of this function, up to $500,000 annually.
Actual food stamp coupons, for the most part, have been phased out. In order to eliminate the shame and stigma experienced by welfare recipients, the federal government mandated that states implement electronic benefit transfers (food stamp debit cards, if you will) by 2002. The Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) is an electronic system that allows a recipient to authorize transfer of their government benefits from a Federal account to a retailer account to pay for products received.
Should the stigma that accompanies welfare be eliminated through systems like EBT? Certainly not. After all, government welfare is not a charitable contribution. It is a benefit that depends upon coerced 'contributions' by taxpaying citizens. Welfare recipients benefit from the economic harm that the government imposes upon non-recipients.
Perhaps the bureaucrats should rename the program Electronic Taxpayer Transfer. That would be a more accurate description.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE ' NOMINATIONS FOR THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES
This rule announces the pending nominations of properties being considered for listing in the National Register. There are over 76,000 listings that make up the National Register, 'the Nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation,' according to the National Park Service.
There is good reason for property owners and municipalities to submit their properties for consideration. Most revolve around taxpayer largesse.
Properties that are listed in the National Register benefit in several ways, including consideration in the planning for federal or federally assisted projects; eligibility for federal tax benefits; and qualification for federal assistance for historic preservation.
JUNE 26, 2003:
COMMUNITY SERVICES OFFICE (CSO) ' $4 MILLION IN COMPASSION CAPITAL FUND AWARDS
The Compassion Capital Fund (CCF) awards provide 'experienced intermediary organizations with funds to deliver technical assistance' to small faith-based and community organizations. The Administration for Children and Families will award $4.2 million in FY 2003 for the CCF program.
Of course, every government 'handout' has strings attached. According to the CSO, 'a cooperative agreement allows substantial Federal involvement in the activities undertaken with Federal financial support.' (Italics added.)
Like every other government program (and unlike the mutually beneficial, voluntary free market), these awards benefit some at the expense of others. Yet, it is ironic that faith-based organizations are eagerly joining their secular brethren in the quest for government goodies. Perhaps they forgot the Seventh Commandment that decrees, 'Thou shalt not steal.' Or, maybe they believe that the ends do, indeed, justify the means.
Despite the Compassion Capital Fund's kindhearted moniker, little compassion is shown for the taxpayers who involuntarily contribute to this program.
JULY 1, 2003:
LABOR DEPARTMENT ' $700,000 GRANT FOR THE COLOMBIAN TRADE UNION TRAINING PROGRAM
The stated purpose of this grant is to 'contribute to the reduction of social conflict and violence in Colombia by improving the ability of the Colombian trade union movement to participate in the economic, political and social development of the country; protect human and worker rights; and play a positive role in the peace process.'
A specious purpose at best. For one, this is simply an excuse to use someone else's money to spread the scourge of labor unions abroad. How do unions reduce social conflict and violence? After all, they rely on an adversarial relationship between management and workers just to succeed.
Besides, how do strikes reduce social conflict? A large number of French workers, especially government employees, are unionized, and the country experiences frequent disruptions in basic services due to recurrent strikes by labor unions. Hardly a vehicle for reducing social conflict.
A second, more important point: It is hard to dispute that much of the conflict in Colombia is due to the U.S. government's war on drugs and their involvement in the drug eradication efforts in Colombia.
About 90% of the cocaine that enters the U.S. comes from Colombia, and the government has been shoveling military aid into Colombia for years in an effort to destroy the drug production at its source.
Plan Colombia, which began in 2000 and made Colombia the third-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, is a multibillion-dollar U.S. aid program designed to assist the Colombian government in its efforts to combat narcotrafficking. The plan provides for 800 U.S. advisers'half of them military'and includes programs to train and equip Colombia's military and police, interdict drugs, and 'encourage' poor peasants to start growing crops other than the coca plants. However, peasants are unlikely to acquiesce to government demands. The criminalization of cocaine in the United States drastically increases the value of coca plants. Thus, income from coca farming greatly exceeds that of any other crop. Besides, coca farmers in southern Colombia are protected by a guerilla army that taxes their coca cultivation in return for protection from government forces.
A supplement to the 2002 U.S. budget allocated $35 million in emergency counterterrorism funds for Colombia, and President Bush has authorized Colombia to use aid previously earmarked for anti-drug operations to directly combat the rebels. The Bush administration also wants to spend about $100 million in 2003 to train a Colombian brigade to protect an often-attacked oil pipeline that runs through lawless territory being fought over by the FARC, the ELN, and the AUC.
Pouring money down the Colombian money pit while promoting the drug war at home has been a favorite pastime of recent administrations. There is no reason to believe that this futile exercise will cease any time soon.
TREASURY DEPARTMENT ' CUSTOMER IDENTIFICATION PROGRAM FOR FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS
The Treasury Department is seeking comments on issues relating to two final privacy regulations pursuant to the Patriot Act: Whether and under what circumstances financial institutions should be required to retain photocopies of identification documents relied on to verify customer identity; and, whether there are situations when the regulations should preclude reliance on certain forms of foreign government-issued identification to verify customer identity.
Privacy advocates beware!
JULY 2, 2003:
FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION ' $4 MILLION GRANT FOR NEXT GENERATION HIGH-SPEED RAIL PROGRAM
The purpose of this grant, according to the government transportation planners, is to 'address congestion in other modes of transportation and/or to provide for additional alternatives to meet current and future mobility needs.' Unfortunately for them, as demonstrated by Amtrak, the government's track record in the transportation sector is abysmal.
Policy makers vowed the government passenger rail system, created in 1971, would be free of subsidies within a few years. Thirty years and $25 billion taxpayer dollars later, Amtrak is still not self-sufficient.
A classic example of bureaucrats repeating failed policies of the past. If left to the government sector, 'next generation high-speed rail' will meet the same fate as its unprofitable predecessor.
To subscribe to the Federal Register Table of Contents LISTSERV electronic mailing list, go to http://listserv.access.gpo.gov and select Online mailing list archives, FEDREGTOC-L, Join or leave the list (or change settings); then follow the instructions.