The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 27, 2013

Ojanpa: When good money goes awry

— What do presidential libraries, nearly 14,000 empty federal bank accounts, and bulletproof boards in Cold Spring schools have in common?

All are costing public money for purposes of dubious, even ludicrous, worth.

The review of these fiscal day brighteners begins with presidential libraries, those monuments to past presidents. With the opening of George W. Bush’s $250 million edifice in Texas, the number of these shrines now stands at 13.

Skipping over the fact that the term “Bush Library” is the premise for a thousand jokes, let’s see what we have in this new building:

Papers, emails, documents, some bent New York Trade Center beams, a pair of George W.’s cowboy boots, statues of the family dogs, etcetera.

Yes, you’re right. Presidential libraries are paid for through private donations (that these donations begin during a president’s time in office and that influential donors, by law, don’t have to be revealed is an ethical ox to gore another day).

But once these presidential libraries-cum-tourist gift shops are opened, their operations are turned over to a federal agency.

These 13 homages cost taxpayers $75 million last year. That’s not a lot in the federal scheme of things but certainly a questionable amount for  ensuring that folks can stop and shop at Ronald Reagan’s presidential library to pick up some Reagan golf balls — three for $12 — and a “Gippergear” denim shirt.

Another relative drop in the federal bucket — $890,000 — is being paid out by Uncle Sam this year for absolutely nothing.

It seems the government is paying that amount for bank service fees on 13,712 of its accounts that are all defunct.

The deal: When a federal agency gives out a grant, rather than write a check, it creates an account in a government-operated depository, and the grantee draws money out of that account.

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