Waste in 2012 included GSA antics, food stamps for dead people

The past 12 months have been a dangerous time to be a government coffer.

As 2012 wraps to a close, the I-Team decided to look back on some of the year’s biggest stories of waste, fraud or abuse of public funds. Maybe we’ll hold an awards gala; we could call it the “I-Teamies,” or maybe the “Wasties.”

Here are the finalists:

Who could forget the U.S. General Services Administration conference scandal? This previously anonymous agency was thrust into the limelight after government investigators found a 2010 GSA conference in Las Vegas cost taxpayers $823,000.

Some morsels: $146,000 in food (including $7,000 in sushi and $19 artisanal cheese plates), $3,200 to hire a mind-reader and more than $100,000 spent so federal bureaucrats could “scout out” possible locations for the party.

A music video produced by a GSA employee (unfortunately titled “American Idle”) just poured gas on the flames. Heads (and eyes) rolled.

Elsewhere, the public learned of $24 million — paid for by the federal stimulus bill — that the state of West Virginia spent on overpowered Internet routers, thanks to excellent reporting by the Charleston Gazette.

The $22,600 routers are powerful enough to serve an entire college campus but were used in rural libraries and schools, where $500 routers would have sufficed. That’s kind of like building an eight-lane highway as a driveway into your house. Some routers went unused and remained in storage.

In sheer eye-popping numbers, former small-town Illinois comptroller Rita Crundwell takes the cake. She admitted in November to embezzling more than $53 million from Dixon (pop. 15,000, and the childhood home of Ronald Reagan to boot) since 1990, according to the Chicago Tribune.

A Government Accountability Office investigation that found the United States Postal Service wasted $4 million after destroying 2 billion unused stamps also makes our list. The GAO’s written report featured a mugshot of a vexed-looking Homer Simpson — 682 million unused Simpsons commemorative stamps were among the casualties of government waste.

A little closer to home, our Columbus bureau this year uncovered that Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee has spent $7.7 million on expenses (luxury hotels, lavish parties, private jets) since returning to the president’s mansion in October 2007. This is in addition to the $8.6 million in salary and compensation he has received.

Of course, it’s subjective whether this can be called waste, unless you’re from Michigan.

Also out of Columbus, state Rep. Clayton Luckie, D-Dayton, is facing a litany of felony charges for allegedly stealing from his campaign fund. The case is ongoing.

The I-Team has had a busy year trying to hold government leaders accountable.

Taking a hard look at military spending — since this region is home to one of the country’s largest Air Force bases — the I-Team exposed the practice of military contractors abusing a program meant to steer work to disabled veterans, as well as billions of dollars in military spending Congress has pushed ahead on, even though the Pentagon doesn’t want it.

We also took a critical look at charter schools across the region, including millions in federal stimulus money that went to schools that have since closed and the case of school treasurer Carl Shye, who pleaded guilty to embezzling $472,579 from charter schools across the state and region.

Some stories we will continue to follow in 2013: government vehicles getting a pass on running red lights as thousands of people in Dayton are caught on red light and speeding cameras. And we’ll continue to watch the watchdogs after reporting that roughly $60 million in public funds labeled by state auditors as mishandled was never paid back. We’ll see if they do better next year.

Abuse of programs for the poor kept the I-Team busy. We uncovered at least $1.7 million wasted in emergency food stamp aid after the state erroneously included Montgomery County on a list of counties that were ravaged by power outages; people abusing a system that replaces lost food stamp cards; and food stamps issued to dead people.

We also found that the state opened dozens of fraud investigations into its subsidized child care system after instituting earlier in the year a multi-million dollar system meant to detect questionable billing.

On the local level, Miami County has kept the I-Team busy as an investigation into public corruption wrapped up with charges against employees and contractors, and allegations leading to an Ohio Ethics Commission investigation.

We’ll close with the People’s Choice Awards. A request for suggestions on this newspaper’s Facebook page found readers are torn between whether the biggest waste of public money this year was … the war on drugs, or paying members of Congress.