New Deal-Era Program Harder to Kill than a Vampire

Barbara Hollingsworth
By Barbara Hollingsworth | June 19, 2013 | 4:28 PM EDT

( -  Killing an outdated program that has long outlived its usefulness should be one of the easiest ways to cut the bloated federal budget. But there are more than a few of these wasteful antiques in the $955 billion pork-laden 2013 Farm Bill that passed the Senate June 10th on a 66-27 vote.

This week the House plans to vote on its version of what critics are calling “a trillion-dollar giveaway.”

One example of a program that just won’t die is the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utility Service.

RUS is a vestigial relic of USDA’s Rural Electrification Administration, a New Deal-era program designed to bring electricity to sparsely populated rural areas where it was uneconomical for utilities to string power lines.

That may have been a worthy goal in the 1930s, when only 10 percent of American farms were electrified. But since virtually all farms today have electricity, RUS has been re-purposed.

Its Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program spends $413 million every year to subsidize rural access to broadband even though 95 percent of Americans already have access to high-speed Internet and the program competes with  private sector providers.

In 2009 – the same year the loan program received an additional $2.5 billion in stimulus funding – the USDA Inspector General reported that less than 3 percent of the loans were being spent in rural communities that didn’t have Internet access.

That means that 97 percent of the money was being spent in places that already had Internet service – the exact opposite of the program’s original purpose.

That didn’t stop Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.., from offering an amendment that actually expands the program even further, even though Citizens Against Government Waste estimates that eliminating RUS altogether would save taxpayers $48.1 billion over the next five years.

If Congress can’t even zero out a program that is misallocating 97 percent of taxpayer-provided funds, no wonder the nation has a growing debt problem.

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