Big government grant programs are invitations to waste and fraud. When the idea is to spend millions, even billions, of dollars before a deadline passes, the possibilities for misuse of taxpayers' money are endless.
It should be no surprise, then, that state officials are seeking an audit of a $126 million grant program to expand high-speed Internet access in West Virginia. It also should be no surprise that, like the scandal-plagued "weatherization" project in our state, the $126 million was appropriated through the federal "stimulus" program.
Included in the funding was $24 million to purchase 1,064 computer network routers.
That is a lot of money for computer routers, some of which, for home use, can be purchased for less than $50 each. But after receiving the money, the state went ahead and purchased routers at an average cost of $22,600 each, then began having them installed - slowly - at public facilities such as schools, libraries and emergency dispatching centers.
As published reports indicate, many locations where the routers were installed or are to be placed don't need the ultra high-powered capacity. Routers costing much less - and in some cases, fewer of them - could do the job just fine.
Recently, state Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said a Virginia consulting firm will investigate the $126 million grant program. A financial audit will be included in the study.
West Virginians don't need professionals to tell them what happened. It occurs all the time. The "spend it or lose it" philosophy of handling taxpayers' money is at work again.
The idea is simple: If a government official or employee told you you have a certain amount of money to spend, you spend it. All of it, whether you really need to or not to provide adequate service to the public.
In fact, President Barack Obama's administration made it clear that is how the $787 billion "stimulus" program was to be administered. The more money that was spent, the more jobs Obama could claim had been created.
Officials in our state should have refused to go along, and not just out of principle. Installing needlessly costly equipment now at federal expense means that, in the not-to-distant future, replacement and repair costs will have to be borne by local and state governments.
Presumably, the consultant will uncover all the sordid details of how money was wasted through the grant program. But West Virginians already know how it happened: It's just government doing things the way it always has - wastefully.