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Feds spend at least $890,000 in fees for empty accounts

If you are a federal worker on furlough this week — or an airline passenger delayed by federal furloughs — you might save your blood pressure, and go read another story.

This one is about all the money the U.S. government spends on … nothing.

It is one of the oddest spending habits in Washington: This year, the government will spend at least $890,000 on service fees for bank accounts that have nothing in them. At last count, Uncle Sam has 13,712 such accounts, each with a balance of zero.

These are supposed to be closed. But nobody has done the paperwork yet.

So even now — as the sequester budget cuts have begun idling workers and frustrating travelers — the government is still required to pay $65, per year, per account, to keep these empty accounts on the books.

"If anyone had kept open a bank account with no money, and was getting a charge every month, they would do everything they could to close it," said Thomas A. Schatz, of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste. But, Schatz said, the government hasn't shown the same kind of urgency with taxpayers' money.

"It's just lack of attention to detail. And poor management," he said. "And, clearly, the fact that no one gets penalized for paying money to keep the accounts open."

The money spent on the empty accounts is, of course, a tiny fraction of the federal budget. But, in its own way, it is something special: Washington's perfect waste.

The Pentagon once paid $435 for a hammer, after all. But at least, in that case, it got a hammer.

Here, when the money is spent, "there's no benefit whatsoever," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who has joined Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., in pushing the Obama administration to close these accounts faster.

Inside the administration, officials said they're trying. Last year, the Office of Management and Budget urged agencies to crack down on these "zero balance" accounts. And this year, it proposed a widescale effort to improve their oversight.

Feds spend at least $890,000 in fees for empty accounts 04/24/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 9:52pm]
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