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Transportation Government The Almighty Buck

EPA Gave Volkswagen a Free Pass On Emissions Ten Years Ago Due To Lack of Budget 203

An anonymous reader writes: A new report suggests that continuing cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's budget contributed to Volkswagen being able to cheat on its emissions tests. When the test scripts were developed the department — which can still only conduct 'spot tests' on 20% of all qualifying vehicles — was forced to concentrate on heavy machinery and truck manufacturers, which at the time had a far higher incidence of attempting to cheat on vehicle standards tests. Discounting inflation the EPA's 2015 budget is on a par with its 2002 budget (PDF), and has been cut by 21% since 2010.
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EPA Gave Volkswagen a Free Pass On Emissions Ten Years Ago Due To Lack of Budget

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why do we assume that all government agencies need an endlessly increasing budget to do their job? Why do we accept endlessly increasing government budgets? We have a kneejerk belief that money fixes everything, but it seems only to bring more corruption, entitlement and fewer freedoms.

    • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @02:09PM (#50646419)
      Probably because the legislative process forces portions of their budget be used for only certain things, and restricts how much can be spent on other things. The process is referred to as an earmark. Sometimes these work out well, if a legislative law compels an agency to do something that really needs to be done that the Executive doesn't want to do, and other times it works out badly, when an Executive needs to do something but the legislative law prohibits or restricts that thing from being done.

      To put it into human terms, it's like if you have a $100,000/year salary, but you are not allowed to spend more than $10,000/year on rent. You're probably not going to be very happy with that kind of income but being limited to a residence that costs $833/month or less.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Population is expanding?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog ( 752185 )

      Why do we assume that all government agencies need an endlessly increasing budget to do their job? Why do we accept endlessly increasing government budgets? We have a kneejerk belief that money fixes everything, but it seems only to bring more corruption, entitlement and fewer freedoms.

      There is this concept of inflation [wikipedia.org]. It works for the universe [wikipedia.org] and pretty much everything else except, apparently, intelligence.

      • by Alphadecay27 ( 1277022 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @02:46PM (#50646713)
        Exactly. The cumulative rate of inflation between 2002 and 2015 was about 32%. Kind of hard to get the same value out of the 2002 level budget when everything costs 32% more.
        • Everything doesn't cost 32% more. I suggest you look to see how productivity enters into the equation.
          • by Alphadecay27 ( 1277022 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @04:53PM (#50647581)
            So you're saying the 2002 budget should cover the 2015 expenses because... productivity? The EPA isn't running out to walmart to buy a bunch of mass market testing equipment. Their work requires highly specialized training and equipment, productivity doesn't significantly enter into it. Their methodology has to change year to year to match regulations and changes in technology. I don't know how strongly their expenses track the CPI but facility, utility, salary, transportation and training costs are all affected by the inflation rate. The idea that they should be able to provide services at the same cost over a 13 year period without a budget increase is ludicrous.
      • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

        Is the federal budget just growing at an inflationary rate? It is not.

        Since about 2002, Federal outlays have been growing as a percentage of GDP pretty steadily. I'm not talking about the deficit or absolute dollar amounts. Percentage of GDP takes into account inflation automatically.

        https://www.cbo.gov/publicatio... [cbo.gov]

        • Since about 2002, Federal outlays have been growing as a percentage of GDP pretty steadily.

          And how much of that increase is military spending?

      • It really is amazing that you even have to explain that.

        I could associate that sort of ignorance to a certain demographic, a certain political mind-set...
        The ignorance and "black and white" worldview that clouds any sort of nuanced discussion about things like the Federal Budget process.
    • Why do we assume that all government agencies need an endlessly increasing budget to do their job? Why do we accept endlessly increasing government budgets? We have a kneejerk belief that money fixes everything, but it seems only to bring more corruption, entitlement and fewer freedoms.

      The population grows meaning more people to serve. Inflation causes costs to go up. It's true that just throwing money at a problem doesn't necessarily fix it but it's also true that spending too little money on a problem is a sure way to not fix it.

  • Why would they need more money now on an inflation adjusted basis then 2002?

    • by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @02:18PM (#50646509)

      Because they didn't have enough money to test the cars properly in 2002...

    • It wasn't an inflation adjusted basis since 2002. The EPA has a smaller budget than in 2002 as they are DISCOUNTING (not even counting) inflation. If it was to be actually equal to the 2002 budget it would need to raise by ~1.02^13 (29%). If the budget hadn't been cut in 2010, then the EPA's budget would actually be on par with the 2002 figures.
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @02:07PM (#50646399)

    I bought a VW diesel in 2005, the last year of the "old" line. When VW came back with their "clean diesel" a little over a year later, it came with a huge advertising campaign, and, as posters have noted in other forums, other car manufacturers publicly and privately wondered "how did VW do a clean diesel" without seeming to have changed their technology.

    >> Byron Bunker, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s vehicle compliance program, says: “We can’t do a 100 percent check of every data point for every modelWe focus on new vehicles, new technologies or those where we have a concern.”

    So...if that didn't raise a flag for "new vehicle or new technology" in the mid-2000's, one has to wonder what kind of dark place the EPA's head was in then.

    • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

      I bought a VW diesel in 2005, the last year of the "old" line. When VW came back with their "clean diesel" a little over a year later, it came with a huge advertising campaign, and, as posters have noted in other forums, other car manufacturers publicly and privately wondered "how did VW do a clean diesel" without seeming to have changed their technology.

      If that's true, why didn't those other manufacturers test the VW engines themselves and report the high emissions to the EPA themselves? Surely they closely examined the engines to see why they were so clean and did their own emissions testing of the VW engines to compare with their own technology.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 02, 2015 @02:24PM (#50646555)

        Implicit collusion. They're likely all cheating, on something. So if they report VW, VW reports w/e they're cheating on. So no one tattles.

      • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @02:37PM (#50646653) Homepage

        I've wondered about this. Honda engineers publicly stated that they didn't understand how Volkswagen did it. Honda is a big company with huge engineering chops. They build all manner of one off things. They undoubtedly test all manner of technology. The smoking gun here was run by a consumer protection agency and a small university. Certainly the engineering might of the other carmakers could have managed this.

        • by crow ( 16139 )

          So why didn't Honda buy one and test it themselves? You would think they would try to analyze and reverse-engineer it.

        • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

          Most likely because they didn't actually suspect real malfeasance. Their efforts were probably either taken up trying to *replicate* the VW results, or more likely, towards developing and operating their electric/hybrid car strategy.

          Sure, they probably had the money lying around, but I know I don't spend my time proving that my competitor's system is shit, if there is room for improvement in mine, I always prefer to make the improvement. That way, if they end up not being shitty, I haven't fallen even far

      • The most likely reason is they all have emission testing facilities that are to the exact EPA specification. This car was designed to pass this test so nobody noticed. But eventually this is how it was found out. A private group tested it with portable equipment on the road.

    • What was the budget of the guy that originally broke the story?

  • This is starting to sound like the plot line to a mid nineties Hollywood movie.
  • by sribe ( 304414 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @02:15PM (#50646489)

    CUT TAXES! CUT TAXES!

    No, see, really. See. If you cut taxes, you know, step 3, profit!

    • Well said.

    • You forgot:

      MORE GUNS, MORE GUNS!

      This line has been added to defeat the lameness filter.

  • by ErikTheRed ( 162431 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @02:15PM (#50646495) Homepage

    Every time I've been exposed to the operational aspects of a government agency (and, unfortunately, most large non-profits and even some large corporations) I see things being done in a way that costs around five times as much as we would do it in small- to mid-scale private industry, and even at that expense level the quality of work is outright appalling. When you start working with the management of these organizations, they simply don't care about setting appropriate standards for what they can achieve on a certain budget and then squeezing things to make do with what they have. Quite the contrary, their incentives are structured around having as much budget as possible. So bloat is everywhere, and the response to any additional "needs" is to demand more money. This is an endless cycle - giving them more money will never achieve their goals, because that would harm management's careers.

    Privatizing these functions is its own can of worms - it's often far cheaper (see: SpaceX vs. NASA), but still a long way away from excellent, and rife with corruption and politics (see: Military-Industrial Complex, Prison-Industrail Complex, etc).

    If I really wanted to have the EPA catch these things the best method I can think of would be to offer bounties paid on caught cheaters. This creates incentives to check everything everywhere, and retains the incentives to maximize efficiency.

    • I see things being done in a way that costs around five times as much as we would do it in small- to mid-scale private industry, and even at that expense level the quality of work is outright appalling.

      I recall a story [paulcraigroberts.org] that conveys this rather poignantly.

      • by rgbscan ( 321794 )

        I heard the story in Economics class. Expect our Prof added on... "Now let me show you show the private contracting business works. A congressman sees that this Scrap yard watchman project is $900k over budget (or whatever the figure in the story was) and recommends that the private sector be brought in to manage it. His largest donor bids only $700k for the project and both congressman and business get to play the saving-the-taxpayers-money card to the press. But have they actually saved anything at all?"

    • I see things being done in a way that costs around five times as much as we would do it in small- to mid-scale private industry, and even at that expense level the quality of work is outright appalling.

      Having worked on both sides of the fence, most of the cost saving I have seen so far in the small-to-mid-scale industry comes from cutting corners on things seen as "uncool" (to be honest, that also applies to large industry). Like, for example, compliance with the laws and regulations. I have worked in education, in the automotive industry, in the banking industry, in the risk management industry, in investment banks, in the cloud hosting industry and in local/national/international administrations. I hone

  • VW was not given a free pass by any means. VW cheated. Even with a larger budget you might not have caught this.
  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @02:36PM (#50646651)
    VW is a shining (well, maybe not shining) example of what happens when you allow industry to self-regulate.
    • This is actually a perfect example on self regulation. The EPA didn't find this but a private clean air organization. In a free market you don't expect a company to self report every bad thing but you sure can count on their competition or private interest groups.

      • This is actually a perfect example on self regulation. The EPA didn't find this but a private clean air organization

        I think that you have a strange notion of the concept of "self". As you point out, it wasn't a motor manufacturer who discovered the problem.

        Since this went on for several years without being discovered, VW was just unlucky to not get away with the cheat. How many other cheats have happened and not been discovered.

        So, yes, this is a perfect example of how self-regulation doesn't work.

  • Conspiracy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 )
    The extreme right wants to prove that any government regulations are wasteful and ineffectual. To make certain that all programs fail they insist on severely under funding the programs at which point they do become wasteful and ineffectual. There followers are so stupid that they can't even see what is actually going on.
  • Could they not simply charge the auto manufacturers for the testing? Also, are there any ways to automate the testing process,to increase throughput, or is there a market for consumer operated testing equipment?

  • I admit I didn't RTFA, but the headline is even inconsistent with the summary.

    Even if the EPA did *NO* testing/verification, that doesn't mean that any company, including VW, had a "free pass". It didn't have a right to violate the rules.

  • Government doesn't work - if you cut their funding so they can't work.

    Brought to you by GOP and self-fulfilling prophecies - if we don't like something we can always cut their funding and 'prove' they can't do the job.

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @06:58PM (#50648351) Journal
    Seriously, the neo-cons have been gutting EPA and any form of gov that they hate.
    HOWEVER, that does not give VW, Audi, Mercedes, Samsung, etc license to cheat at will.

    I prefer that we block these companies from selling in the states, but next up, would be fines so large that they can fund these groups.

Money isn't everything -- but it's a long way ahead of what comes next. -- Sir Edmond Stockdale

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