Thank God we have government programs like EnergyStar to help us live a greener lifestyle:


But this week the Government Accountability Office reported on its test of the EPA's testing. 
GAO obtained Energy Star certifications for 15 bogus products, including a gas-powered alarm clock.
Even worse: The GAO attached a feather duster to a space heater, sent the photo to the EPA, and got approval in just 11 days.

How on earth could this have happened?  This is the sort of thing the government is supposed to be good at:  providing transparency and certification for private efforts.  Yet it seems they weren't even bothering.




It's tempting to blame simple malfeasance, and resort to the reflexive bashing of lazy government employees.  But I suspect the problem runs deeper than that:  actually doing this sort of certification is very expensive, and requires highly skilled workers who are relatively difficult to entice into government.  It's very possible that EnergyStar simply wasn't given the budget to do the job we thought they were doing.  And fair enough; if the EPA has to choose what to spend my tax dollars on, I'd rather have them checking for noxious carcinogenic chemicals than the energy efficiency of my air conditioner.

(Though given that burning coal produces a fair number of noxious carcinogenic chemicals, maybe this is irrational)

But I think this goes back to my belief that the government is simply doing too much.  We want a program for virtually every single problem in human existence, and the incentive of politicians and bureaucrats is to create one.  It doesn't matter so much whether it actually solves the problem, as long as it seems to.  If the GAO just discovered this now, I suspect that manufacturers discovered this long ago.  In effect, the government has enabled them--hell, encouraged them--to get millions of people to pay extra for a worthless label.  The manufacturers, the politicians, and the regulators were all better off--but the rest of us were worse off.  And given the scope of the government's duties, at this point, there's no hope that we'll ever be able to monitor even a reasonable portion of its activities.