Chart of the Day: Federal Programs Surprisingly Well Run

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

Via Siddhartha Mahanta, I see that Mitt Romney is suggesting that social welfare programs ought to be turned over to the states because our bloated federal bureaucracy is — well, so bloated. Unsurprisingly, Romney is wrong. Here’s a chart from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities showing just how much overhead the feds add to a variety of programs:

There’s no real way to compare this to the private sector, because the private sector just doesn’t run programs like this. The closest you could come is to compare this level of overhead to average SG&A costs — which is at least something Romney would understand — and on that score the federal government looks great and state governments don’t look too bad either. Most companies would be pretty happy with SG&A expenses of 5-10%.

It’s also worth noting that overhead costs go up precisely when the government does the kinds of things conservatives want it to do. Programs like SNAP and Section 8 housing have fairly stringent means testing rules in order to root out folks trying to game the system, and the result of that is higher admin costs. It’s pretty unavoidable. We could probably cut the overhead costs of housing vouchers by simply giving money to anyone under a certain income line and then calling it a day, but we don’t. We make sure you really truly qualify, we make sure the vouchers are really spent on housing, and we make sure that landlords aren’t scamming either tenants or the taxpayers. This is exactly the kind of thing conservatives are always urging us to do, and it costs money. There’s no way around it.

All of these programs could undoubtedly be run more efficiently and I’d love to hear some real suggestions from Romney about how we could do this. But even if his Bain-trained mind does have some good ideas, he’s never going to save more than a few percent. That adds up, and I’m all for it, but it’s not going to make a serious dent in federal spending and he knows it. There’s just no “massive overhead” here and there never has been. The vast bulk of this money goes exactly where it’s supposed to: to the people it’s meant to help.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate