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Federal grant money needs more scrutiny

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has been busy under the Obama administration, pushing research and development for renewable energy in a variety of industries. The DOE has administered a number of federal grants to businesses to help them develop such products.
The purpose of these grants is to infuse a struggling industry with cash to give the industry a competitive advantage with established energy development such as coal and oil.
The only problem with that is that the government was making investments in companies that the free market was avoiding. As a result, multiple companies that have received federal grants from the DOE have filed for bankruptcy, the latest being A123 Systems Inc.
According to the Institute of Energy Research, during the Obama administration alone over $1.25 billion has been granted to private energy companies that have either declared bankruptcy or laid off employees in order to avoid bankruptcy after receiving the grant. An additional $600 million-plus was guaranteed to these companies, but the businesses went bankrupt before receiving the full grant amount.
The DOE made these grants without a check from the government to determine if the investment was sound.
This poses two questions: First, should the DOE be allowed to administer grants without congressional oversight? Second, should the government be administering any grants into an industry where businesses are repeatedly failing?
America’s sense of government is based on checks and balances, but that ideology is mostly concerned with the branches of government laid out in the Constitution. What about checks and balances for governmental agencies?
Specifically with the DOE, which has now made several investment blunders, the authority to administer grants should be revoked, with that money going to another agency. If one agency is not doing an adequate job, then it risks losing funding to another agency that is doing well.
Imagine if over the four years of the Obama administration the Department of Education had awarded nearly $2 billion in grant money as bonuses for teachers in successful schools. Or if the Department of Health and Human Services had awarded that amount to cancer research.
All in all, oversight of governmental agencies is severely lacking. When so much money is at stake, one would think that such oversight would be a priority rather than completely absent. It is time for agencies to stop pushing political agendas, focusing instead on efficient use of the assets provided to it. As long as we allow agencies to operate inefficiently and without oversight, we will never have a balanced budget.

Trenton Winford is a junior public policy leadership major from Madison.