Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute laments at National Review Online about the rampant waste within federal agency budgets.

In the nearly seven years since the 2009 subway crash that killed nine people, the Washington, D.C., Metro transit system has spent more than $4.5 billion on a capital-improvements project designed to increase safety. The Metro system’s proposed five-year Capital Improvement Program envisions $6 to $8 billion in additional funding. But despite the expenditures so far, last week it was announced that safety had deteriorated so much that large parts of the system might have to be shut down for up to six months to make repairs. And, while many Americans might be thrilled at the prospect of Congress and federal bureaucrats unable to get to work, we might also be wondering where those billions went.

When there is a foul-up this big — you may quite naturally be thinking — people are held responsible. Heads must have rolled.

Well, not exactly. As Metro board member Corbett Price recently lamented, a few low-level employees were disciplined for safety lapses, but “the management gets a pass.” In fact, the people directly responsible for overseeing the waste and safety lapses were generally allowed to retire, with their generous pensions intact.

Okay, but even if the people responsible weren’t punished, at least the system won’t see another dime of taxpayer money until it gets its act together, right? Don’t count on it. Metro is seeking as much as $1 billion per year for capital investments and repairs that should have been made with the first $4.5 billion. Whoever said “Failure is its own reward” probably didn’t have this in mind.

Does anyone think that failures of this magnitude would be tolerated in the private sector? Well, maybe they would in an environment of government bailouts and cronyism, but not in a free market. Markets reward success, and they also punish failure. Government? Not so much.