An Egregious Waste of Taxpayers’ Money

So, how much money do you reckon the United States government wastes every year? I don’t know either, but I think we can all agree on “a lot”. And where is it wasted? Well, we all know the high-profile procurement incidents that have taken on urban-legend status – the $900 hammers, the $500 toilet seats, and so on. Those, people notice and pay attention to, because the dollar figures are huge and easy to get upset about.

I’ve noticed a pretty absurd bit of government-wide wasteful spending that, while probably less interesting because it’s pure nickel-and-dime stuff, is quite easily remedied.

Yeah, a problem and a solution, in one blog post.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: Postage.

I make a lot of FOIA requests (and FOIA appeals…), and while most parts of the government accept such requests by email, very few respond by anything but snail-mail. (The Paperwork Reduction Act, by and large, only exists… on paper.) First-class snail-mail. Nearly identical mail – one or two sheets of paper in a business-sized envelope.

Some agencies – the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, and Department of Homeland Security, among many others – pay $0.44 in postage per letter, the standard consumer rate for letters of one-ounce weight or less.

Some agencies – the Department of the Navy, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, among others – pay $0.35 in postage per letter. (Actually, apparently, $0.357 per letter, but who’s counting?) That’s nine cents (or eight and three-tenths of a cent, if you want to be really pedantic) less than some of their federal brethren.

How do they do it? The letters are addressed identically, weigh the same, come from the same part of the country, and are run through literally identical automatic “franking” machines.

Thing is, the $0.357 letters get a discounted rate for being presorted first class mail.

Is eight or nine cents a letter really that big of a deal? In the grand scheme of things, probably not. But it’s still an inexplicable waste, and one that’s trivial to remedy.

So, what do you say, Uncle Sam? Save a couple bucks a year? Or keep on squandering our hard-earned taxes?

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General | on October 28th, 2009| 3 Comments »

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  1. On 10/28/2009 at 5:13 pm Patrick Walker Said:

    Why are government agencies even paying postage for things sent through the USPS, another government agency. Isn’t that just needless shuffling around of taxpayer money?

  2. On 10/28/2009 at 5:29 pm Nemo Said:

    Patrick – it’s because the USPS is entirely self-funded, and not actually the (direct) recipient of tax dollars, so it seems “needless”, but prevents anyone getting a free ride, and ensures that mailing things remains a pay-to-play activity where the end-user costs (i.e. postage) bear at least some resemblance to the actual costs involved.

    The USPS is also a bit strange in that they aren’t allowed to turn a serious profit – hence why we get a small rate increase nearly every year, it seems, rather than one big increase every five or eight years…

  3. On 10/29/2009 at 2:00 pm Patrick Walker Said:

    I suppose that makes sense. I was thinking after the post that the administrative costs of cracking down on anyone abusing a system so that government agencies could just mail things for free would probably just add more tax costs.
    What I still wonder is why the systems aren’t converted to the use of email, or if a paper trail is required (and when it comes to government business, you want a paper trail usually) fax.