President Harry S. Truman's famous adage — "The buck stops here" — sat on his desk in the Oval Office as a clear reminder that as president, he was responsible for the decisions he made and what happened in his administration. It sent a message that accountability would be an ethic of his presidency.
From the scandals embroiling Washington, like the IRS targeting individuals based on their political beliefs, to the wasted stimulus dollars in Maryland that were supposed to help needy children, the days of "The buck stops here" are long gone.
Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS division where the targeting occurred, refused to answer any questions during a recent congressional hearing. The most she gave was an opening statement where she said, "I have done nothing wrong." Doug Shulman, the former IRS commissioner who was in charge of the entire agency when the incidents in question took place, also testified that he would not take responsibility for what happened.
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As if there wasn't enough scandal at the IRS, news broke recently that the agency spent roughly $50 million on conferences for its employees between 2010 and 2012. One 2010 conference had IRS employees staying in $1,500-$3,500 suites and enjoying complimentary baseball tickets. It also featured two videos that cost $50,000 to make of IRS employees line dancing and performing a "Star Trek" spoof. Faris Fink, the IRS official who signed off on the conference, told Congress: "I think it is important to point out that in carrying out this 2010 meeting, we followed IRS and government procedures that were in place at the time." The Treasury Department also found no fraud or rules broken.
That is exactly the problem. Common sense would tell anyone that $1,500 suites are not an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. Mr. Fink and others wasted taxpayer dollars on lavish conferences without any repercussions — and he was promoted to lead the division in question a year later.
Closer to home, it was concerning to watch former Baltimore schools CEO Andrés Alonso dismiss the waste of federal stimulus dollars that happened under his watch. He said in a TV interview that if only $25,000 of the budget was questioned, he would "take it any day of the week." Not only is the money in question much more than that, but I bet any Marylander would prefer to have those tax dollars back in their pocket.
The waste, fraud and abuse that went on in the Maryland school system is exactly what makes the American people angry about government spending. Marylanders have had to cut back in this tough economy, so when they see school officials spend hard-earned tax dollars on dinner cruises and makeovers, they have a right to be angry. The American people deserve much better from their government officials. It's one thing to break the law or behave unethically; it's another to refuse to take responsibility after wrongdoing has occurred.
With regard to the wasted education stimulus dollars, I'll be investigating this matter further from my position on the Appropriations Committee. The Department of Education audit that revealed these findings only looked at some school systems in 11 states to see how stimulus dollars were spent on education. I'm calling for an expanded audit of all Maryland school districts to determine how this money was spent. Taxpayers deserve to know what happened, who was responsible and whether the waste goes further. I will also demand that all wasted money be repaid.
The Maryland Department of Education, and especially the Baltimore City and Prince George's County school districts, must right this wrong. I encourage them to hold those responsible for this wasteful spending accountable and return that money to the taxpayer.
The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners has a unique opportunity to use the search process for a new schools CEO to find someone who will not only focus on tackling the system's serious educational challenges but will address the financial problems.
President Truman's wisdom on leadership is timeless. The buck should stop at the desks of our government officials because that's what the American people expect and deserve.
Andy Harris, a Republican, represents Maryland's 1st Congressional District. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.