PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, outlined steps she believes could help the federal government make progress toward resolving its budget crisis during a Thursday morning address before the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Among those steps, according to a transcript of her prepared remarks provided to the BDN by the senator’s office, are reductions in wasteful or redundant spending by federal agencies.

“Improved management and common sense would … save billions,” Collins told chamber members during their regular Eggs & Issues breakfast event. “Last year, federal agencies paid $108 billion to the wrong person, for the wrong amount, or for the wrong reason. The government also spends $1.7 billion every year to maintain some 55,000 taxpayer-owned buildings that are underutilized or entirely vacant.

“Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that there are 56 different programs, housed in 20 federal agencies, all redundantly trying to improve the financial literacy of the American people,” she continued. “The American people can teach the government a thing or two about financial literacy: pay for something once, not dozens of times.”

Collins also said more than 10,000 Americans older than age 70 continue to collect workers compensation benefits from the federal government instead of being transitioned to pension benefits. Of that group, she said, more than 200 are older than 90 and six are older than 100.

“Clearly, these people are not coming back to work,” said Collins, who on Friday is scheduled to visit the North Berwick facility of jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. “We need to reform the federal system to require periodic medical reviews, to provide better rehabilitation and to encourage a return to work. I’m working to get these reforms signed into law this year.”

She also reiterated before the chamber crowd Thursday morning her desire to see the federal tax code simplified, saying it’s currently nearly four million words long and takes American taxpayers a total of 6.1 billion hours per year — at a cost of $168 billion in man-hours and accountants’ fees — to comply with.

Collins in her address took aim at the unpopular slate of federal spending cuts commonly known as the sequester, saying it’s “a very poor way to legislate.”

Sequestration refers to $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts that kicked in on March 1 of this year after members of Congress couldn’t agree on alternative federal budget savings plans.

Rather than the sequester’s mandated cuts across all federal agencies, spending reductions should be made more strategically, Collins said in Thursday’s address. In addition to eliminating expenditures on largely empty buildings and misdirected payments, she said, the federal government should embrace a Senate version of the U.S. Farm Bill that cuts $24 billion in spending, among other things.

The Senate Farm Bill failed to pass in the House of Representatives.

She also named Chamber member Rob Tod of Portland-based Allagash Brewing Co. as “a true Maine success story,” saying the company was founded as a one-man operation in 1995 and has grown to more than 65 employees today. Collins said a bill she introduced this summer alongside U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., cements the maximum tax deductions allowable under a section of the tax code intended to forgive companies that reinvest in their facilities and operations.

Collins said the tax code section in question “allowed Rob to acquire the equipment he needed to expand his business. He reinvested the tax savings in his business, thus creating jobs.”

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.