When opening their mail – especially a letter from the federal government – most people don’t expect to find two dollars.
But for 11,000 households who received a survey from the Bureau of Reclamation last year, they were given a choice: Take the survey and keep the money, or keep the money and do nothing at all.
The federal agency, which also sent $20 to the nearly 300 people who responded after a second mailing, spent a total of more than $27,000 of taxpayers’ money.
Last week, Rep. Scott Tipton amended the Energy and Water Appropriations bill to stop the Bureau of Reclamation and other related agencies from funding surveys that use money to encourage responses.
The Cortez congressman said the spending is a wasteful, unacceptable use of taxpayers’ dollars.
“You just have a little incredulity,” he said. “We don’t want to stop the survey process because that is appropriate to be able to gather information, but particularly with $15.8 trillion in debt, it is not appropriate to be going down to the bank, withdrawing cash, putting it in envelopes and mailing it out.”
The Bureau of Reclamation also funded the 1,245 follow-up Federal Express or Priority Mail packages sent to those who did not respond, but kept the $2 bill anyway. The surveys were mailed to households in California, Oregon and other various places across the country.
“Wow, what a waste of time,” one respondent said. “I have neither the time or interest in something I have not a clue about happening clear across the country. Sorry. P.S. Thanks for the 2 bucks.”
Tipton said although some have downplayed the amount of money, it still adds up.
“I’ll tell you, if you went up to anybody in (Cortez), they’d look pretty amazed if you said, ‘I’m giving you $30,000,’” he said. “We have to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and I think that speaks to the change that is going on in Washington right now.”
The government can encourage survey responses through local media, news releases and town-hall meetings rather than money, Tipton said, adding that people won’t care about an issue simply because they’re paid.
“Sometimes the results are in the response. If people are not motivated, that is part of your answer – that people were not motivated. It was not an issue in their mind,” Tipton said.
Tipton said he is continuing to work on legislation that will prohibit all federal agencies from including taxpayer dollars in surveys for the benefit of the responder.
Rachel Karas is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.