Broken Government

Published — December 10, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

By the numbers


With two wars and an economy in shambles, it’s not hard to get the feeling that something’s gone terribly wrong here in Washington. “We’ll look back on this period as one of the most destructive in our public life,” Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution told us in a recent interview. He’s not alone. Public opinion pollsters give this president the lowest marks for job performance of any administration since they started polling.

How bad is it? The Center for Public Integrity set out to document just how off-track things have gone. We assigned a team of 13 reporters to sift through hundreds of GAO assessments, inspectors general reports, congressional investigations, and news stories. The team also interviewed dozens of experts and sent e-mails to nearly 5,000 federal employees to solicit nominations for this project.

The results surprised even us.

From 250 suggested failures, our editors narrowed the list to half, focusing on those that attracted bipartisan criticism and had major impacts on the lives of ordinary Americans. We’re calling this our Broken Government project, and it reveals an extraordinary record of failure: eight years of poor oversight, lack of accountability, and a government based on ideology not competence.

Many of the failures will be familiar to you, but the breadth and depth of them all just might surprise you, too. For more on the project, check out our Broken Government project. For now, here’s a sampling of what we found — 40 ways in which the executive branch of the U.S. government failed to perform from 2001-2008:

45 million Americans without health care

60 percent of EPA scientists report political interference with their work

• 1,273 whistleblower complaints filed from 2002-2008; 1,256 were dismissed

190,000 U.S.-supplied weapons missing in Iraq

$212.3 million in overcharges by Halliburton for Iraq oil reconstruction work

$455 billion deficit for fiscal year 2008; estimated to reach up to $1 trillion in 2009

$9.91 billion for government secrecy in 2007 — a record

809 government laptops with sensitive information lost by FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

30 million pounds of beef recalled in 2007

$300 billion over budget for Department of Defense weapons acquisitions

• Less than 3 percent of U.S. electricity needs met by alternative energy

2,145 troops killed and 21,000 injured in Iraq from March 2003 through November 1, 2008, by IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and other explosives — many while awaiting body armor. Additionally, tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in the conflict

34.8 percent of oil used in America imported during Nixon administration; 42.2 percent during first Gulf War; 59.9 percent in 2006

$100 million for failed FBI computer network

$100 billion in federal tax revenues lost annually to corporations using off-shore tax shelters

163 million airline passengers delayed 320 million hours; cost to U.S. economy: more than $41 billion in 2007

$60 billion stolen in Medicare fraud each year

2.5 million toxic toys recalled in summer of 2007

$12.5 billion for defective National Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellite System

$4 billion to upgrade National Security Agency computers that often crash, have trouble talking to each other, and lose key intelligence

60,000 flights made by 46 Southwest Airline jets in violation of FAA safety directives due to lax FAA enforcement

12.8 percent job turnover at Department of Homeland Security in 2006 — double that of any other cabinet-level agency

730,000 backlogged patent applications

148,000 troops not enough to secure Iraq, enabling insurgency to take root

$1 billion, six-year “Reading First” program called ineffective by Department of Education Inspector General

20,000 U.S. deaths annually from lack of pollution controls on diesel vehicles and power plants

60,000 newborns a year at risk for neurological problems due to mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants

Two-thirds fewer clean ups of EPA Superfund toxic waste sites during 2001-2006 than in previous six years

935 demonstrably false statements in lead-up to Iraq war by President Bush and seven members of his administration

At least $500 million for FEMA trailers contaminated by formaldehyde occupied by thousands displaced after Hurricane Katrina

558 detainees at Guantanamo detention facility reduced to 255 after court-ordered case reviews

26 percent of corporations holding at least $250 million in assets audited in 2006; percent audited in 1990: more than 70 percent. IRS audit staff slashed by 30 percent

$431.5 billion spent on Medicare in 2007, double amount in 2001

47 dead in mining accidents in 2006 blamed on lax oversight

$9 billion in federal oil and gas royalties mismanaged by agency linked to drug-and-sex scandal

275 largest U.S. corporations pay, on average, about 17 percent in taxes in 2007, half the standard corporate tax rate

$45 trillion in credit-default swaps, without federal oversight, in 2007

760,800 disability claims backlogged, awaiting hearings at Social Security Administration as of October 2008

806,000 Veterans Affairs disability claims in 2006, up 39 percent since 2000; backlog reached 400,000 claims by February 2007

2,640 days Osama bin Laden at large since September 11, 2001 (as of December 10, 2008)

Read more in Money and Democracy

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