Omdahl: Hoops, red tape bog down sex trafficking fight

GRAND FORKS -- Frustration is rampant among applicants for $1.25 million appropriated in the last legislative session for training programs to help victims of sex trafficking.The appropriation was passed with an emergency clause, which means the ...

Lloyd Omdahl

GRAND FORKS -- Frustration is rampant among applicants for $1.25 million appropriated in the last legislative session for training programs to help victims of sex trafficking.
The appropriation was passed with an emergency clause, which means the program could have begun as soon as the bill was signed by the governor. This was done in April 2015 and grants were approved, but the money was still tied up in the bureaucracy as of May 2016.
An overlooked hurdle in the process was the need for sponsorship of grants by city or county governing boards. In exasperation, grantees referred to the requirements as jumping through hoops and unnecessary hindrances.
Complaints about government red tape and regulations have always been common at every level of government. The problem is accountability.
What grant recipients regard as “jumping through hoops” is seen by policymakers as protection of public funds from being diverted to unintended expenditures. The implementing agency must answer to the Legislature and the public for waste. The taxpayers complain just as loudly when diversions occur.
Years ago, the federal government gave big bucks to state agencies and local governments for fighting crime. Then some county in Alabama used the money to build a golf course across the street from the police department, arguing that this was helpful for law enforcement morale.
This resulted in a regulation against state and local governments building recreational facilities with the money.
Then a city in Pennsylvania used the money to fund a concert for police officers and their families. This resulted in a regulation that crime money could not be used for sponsoring entertainment.
So it is the abuse of public funds that leads to more and more regulations. Unfortunately, government does not turn to the other solution - punishing the abusers instead of everyone participating in the program.
Take the fallout from the big bank crash in 2009. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank law to prevent a repeat of the abuses that led to the collapse.
Jeff Olson, president and CEO of the Credit Union Association of the Dakotas, pointed out in a newspaper viewpoint that the new legislation resulted in more than 200 regulatory changes that would now punish small banks and credit unions for the sins of Wall Street.
Yet, he noted, not one single credit union had cost the taxpayers a dime in the multibillion-dollar bailout. Instead of punishing only wrong doers, the entire financial community is saddled with paying for the recklessness of a few.
Experience has taught policymakers that regulations are necessary because 5 or 10 percent of the participants in programs are bent on beating the system through loopholes and fraud. That is what is happening to Medicare.
According to a recent AARP Bulletin article by Joe Eaton, one doctor was able to scam the Medicare program for $375 million by falsely claiming patients that didn’t exist. And this scam was only the tip of the $60 billion iceberg in Medicare losses every year. Apparently, thousands of Medicare regulations aren’t equal to the human capacity to defraud.
Unfortunately, we are dealing with human beings described by philosopher Thomas Hobbes as selfish and brutish, something of which the Founding Fathers were well aware. To paraphrase James Madison from Federalist Paper No.51, if men were angels, government regulations would not be necessary.
So recipients of public money may think they are jumping through unnecessary hoops, but the Legislature and the public want to be sure that everyone remains angels, even when fighting sex trafficking.
Omdahl is a retired professor of political science at the University of North Dakota and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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