The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 12, 2013

Too many coincidences to ignore

Daily Item

---- — News this week that Northumberland County possibly mishandled more than $215,000 in federal funds from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development -- this on the heels of a similar occurrence in Point Township — forms a pattern worth watching.

County officials are trying to get tabs on how the money, which was part of the $32 billion federal HOME program to provide rent subsidies for poor families, was distributed. DCED, which handed out the funds in the state, has given the county a 30-day window to find answers. It could be a simple paper trail problem, but it could be more. There are too many coincidences to be ignored.

These instances point to a larger problem: This is what happens when you have to too many programs with too much money and not enough oversight.

The Heritage Foundation writes that "wasteful spending is intrinsic in big government, because government is concerned primarily with getting the checks out the door and only secondarily with spending the money properly."

Northumberland County Commissioners assert that DCED never provided firm guidelines on how the funds were to be properly distributed, something DCED denies. Commissioner Steven Bridy says DCED is trying to hold the county responsible for DCED's lack of oversight.

Within the past year, we have seen two instances in the Valley where federal funds have been mishandled in our little corner of the country. If nearly $750,000 was possibly mishandled here, how much of the original $32 billion has been wasted, or at least misused, nationally?

With so many programs funded, it is nearly impossible to keep track of every dollar. In today's economic realities, where the nation has had four consecutive $1 trillion deficits, that needs to become a priority. Since Washington washes its hands of the money once the check is written, it falls upon local officials to keep meticulous records as to how the money is distributed and invested here.

Federal money may seem like free money, but that does not excuse failure to properly document its use. When writing a check at home to pay for a bill, the next step is to mark the expense down on our ledger accompanying the checkbook. Distributing federal funds at a local level needs to be handled with at least the same care. If funds are properly distributed, keeping track of them should be simple enough.