In today's Follow the Money, we head to the scenic West where thousands of horses roam public lands. Behind this scenic beauty, there are questions about cost and taxpayer waste, as Joce Sterman reports.
The majestic open space of the west is home to thousands of wild horses. Since the early 1970’s they’ve roamed the public lands of the range - protected by the US government. But there’s a problem with the growing number of horses and the escalating cost of managing them.
David Williams: Nothing is getting done. A lot of money is being spent and yet there are no solutions to this very real problem in the west.
David Williams is with the watchdog Taxpayer Protection Alliance. He says the feds have collectively dropped the ball on managing both the horses and all the tax money spent.
David Williams: This is a failure of policy. But it’s a failure of leadership. Because this isn’t just this administration. This is previous administrations that really keep passing the buck to the next one.
The Federal Bureau of Land Management - which oversees the Wild Horse Program - says herds are doubling in size every 4 to 5 years. By the end of this summer, by the agency's count, there will be more than 100,000 horses on land it says can only support about 26,000. Meantime, the cost to manage them is growing exponentially.
In 2008...Wild horse management program was budgeted for 36-million dollars. By last year, that number had nearly doubled to 70-million. Much of that money is paid to contractors that house the horses. Trying to find out if it all that money is well spent isn’t easy.
In 2016, an audit by the inspector general flagged big problems. It found the government pays some contractors amounts based on verbal agreements that aren’t even documented. The auditors also found every contract they examined was different because, surprisingly, there were no standard required procedures.
David Williams: There has to be some uniformity with these contracts and if there are wild differences between them - those are questions that need to be asked but also answered.
More than 10 months ago, we submitted a formal information request asking for copies of all the contracts for housing the horses. We're still waiting.
Joce: Are you just as much to blame in this situation?
Rep. Chris Stewart: There's no question the Congress is to blame.
Utah congressman Chris Stewart is a critic of the wild horse management program. He has proposed what some consider a distasteful solution: Sterilizing or euthanizing the horses to bring down costs.
Rep. Chris Stewart: Look $70 million dollars is a lot of money, even to the government. And it’s 70-million we could spend on horses...Or we could spend on education...Or you could spend on healthcare. Those are the choices we have.
So far, his ideas haven’t found enough support in congress.
The estimated cost of caring for the current number of horses already in the system is more than one billion dollars over their lifetime.