Chart of the Day: Federal Programs Surprisingly Well Run

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

Via Siddhartha Mahanta, I see that Mitt Romney is suggesting that social welfare programs ought to be turned over to the states because our bloated federal bureaucracy is — well, so bloated. Unsurprisingly, Romney is wrong. Here’s a chart from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities showing just how much overhead the feds add to a variety of programs:

There’s no real way to compare this to the private sector, because the private sector just doesn’t run programs like this. The closest you could come is to compare this level of overhead to average SG&A costs — which is at least something Romney would understand — and on that score the federal government looks great and state governments don’t look too bad either. Most companies would be pretty happy with SG&A expenses of 5-10%.

It’s also worth noting that overhead costs go up precisely when the government does the kinds of things conservatives want it to do. Programs like SNAP and Section 8 housing have fairly stringent means testing rules in order to root out folks trying to game the system, and the result of that is higher admin costs. It’s pretty unavoidable. We could probably cut the overhead costs of housing vouchers by simply giving money to anyone under a certain income line and then calling it a day, but we don’t. We make sure you really truly qualify, we make sure the vouchers are really spent on housing, and we make sure that landlords aren’t scamming either tenants or the taxpayers. This is exactly the kind of thing conservatives are always urging us to do, and it costs money. There’s no way around it.

All of these programs could undoubtedly be run more efficiently and I’d love to hear some real suggestions from Romney about how we could do this. But even if his Bain-trained mind does have some good ideas, he’s never going to save more than a few percent. That adds up, and I’m all for it, but it’s not going to make a serious dent in federal spending and he knows it. There’s just no “massive overhead” here and there never has been. The vast bulk of this money goes exactly where it’s supposed to: to the people it’s meant to help.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.