Grade Your Government: Cash for Clunkers Part 1

By Courtney Lane - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - It's something you've probably always wanted to do, but didn't think anyone was listening. KLTV is giving East Texans a voice, by letting you "Grade Your Government." We're taking a look at everything from Social Security to Medicare, and we want to hear from you. This is your chance to tell us about the service and treatment you've received. Then, we are taking your comments directly to each agency for a response. The first program on the KLTV 7 Grade Your Government report card is Cash for Clunkers.

It's a program that burned through $3-billion in just one month. It was meant to jump-start a stalled auto industry. Cash for Clunkers kicked into gear last summer. While many East Texans traded in their clunker with the hope of getting up to $4,500 off a new fuel efficient car, it was our dealers who dealt directly with the government's regulations.

"The packet of rules we got was about 250 pages so it was like a Dallas phone book almost," said Dean Cagle, with Peltier Chevrolet.

"It was a lot of rules that nobody really knew how to follow or how to implement," said Ray Cox, with Patterson Nissan.

"Took me an entire day to get registered as a dealer," said Monte Hall, with Hall Buick Pontiac GMC.

They also say it was nearly impossible to get help through an actual person.

"Oh, we had a hotline," said Andrew Bertrand. "Yeah, it's the nice thing you could actually call and wait on hold for a really, really, really, extended period of time."

"You'd call the number and go through a menu and then they'd hang up on you," said Cox.

"Or, it would go to a busy signal," said Hall.

"When you finally got through to somebody, you forgot what you were going to ask," said Bertrand.

"They were completely incompetent," said Ray. "They couldn't answer any questions, so I'd give them an 'F'."

So a failing grade for communication.

The Transportation Department only had a few weeks to create a web site for the program. It was that system that dealers used to enter rebate information.

"A lot of times the computer system would crash or I think maybe possibly the government under-anticipated the demand," said Cagle.

"Something would come back and get declined and that was not a good thing 'cause money is on the line," said Bertrand.

However, after a very bumpy start, most dealers say things did pick-up.

"The first two to four weeks we were really concerned that if it continued this way, that we weren't going to get our money," said Craig Sisk, with Sick Buick in Longview. As they hired some new people then it really, everything got real efficient."

"If the purpose was to get rid of clunkers, mission accomplished," said Ray. "I don't think the government had any business in that business."

"I don't think they were prepared for how successful the program was going to be," said Cagle. "So I don't blame the government I just don't think they were ready for the results...they really tried."

"It is the government we're dealing with here so we're very thankful, number one, to have been with all those sales, but, also, at the same time, that we actually got paid," said Bertrand.

Based on the number of single pay taxpayers in 2007, that last year we could find records the Cash for Clunkers program cost each of us $21.60.

But, every East Texas dealer we talked to say the government did fulfill their promise to pay in full. And, at least for a short time, Cash for Clunkers did cause East Texas auto sales to skyrocket. Dealers will reveal their grades in "Grade Your Government: Cash for Clunkers Part 2."

We also took all the grades straight to Washington DC so you're going to hear from someone who helped put together the program. Now, dealers aren't the only ones grading this program, you can too and we've made it real easy for you. Just click here.

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