You've heard it countless times: the federal government has a budget problem. Before this warning falls yet again on deaf ears, let me show you why this serious problem can't be taken lightly — and what we can do fix it.
Congress is required by law to pass a budget each fiscal year which lays out the framework for allocating taxpayer dollars for all federal programs. Additionally, Congress must pass 12 function and program –related appropriations bills that then distribute the funds to the various departments, agencies, and programs.
Unfortunately, within the current political climate of heightened partisanship and increased influence of advocacy groups, fewer than 10 percent of appropriations and budget bills are passed on time.
Instead, Congress and the administration have relied on last-minute continuing resolutions (CRs) and omnibus spending bills that kick the can down the road by adopting only set levels of funding — providing no oversight over the worthiness of program spending, nor prioritizing spending according to our country's needs.
This "governing by crisis," or better yet "governing by neglect," has led to hundreds of seemingly temporary programs — whose mission has ended — being forever left on the books and funded past their usefulness. Outside advocacy groups have figured out that if they can hold up and take this process hostage, then their pet projects have the best chance of getting funding again. Never asked is the question of whether taxpayers should continue funding the program in the first place.
As President Reagan famously said: "Government programs, once launched, never disappear…a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth."
This broken approach must end if we are to ensure long-term competitiveness and quality of living in America for future generations.
Let's take a deeper look at the problem:
- Continuing resolutions keep programs on "auto-pilot" from year to year without any assessment of whether the money is being well spent. There have been more than 20 of these resolutions in the past five years.
- Nearly 200 government programs are "fragmented, duplicative, overlapping or just inefficient," according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
- Congressional committees, charged with scrutinizing how each federal department and agency is actually spending taxpayer dollars, are strapped for time to do so. Committees, on average, hold specific program oversight hearings only a few hours each month and generally focus attention on only one or two programs each year — neglecting many programs under their jurisdiction.
- Without proper legislative oversight, wasteful government spending continues its meteoric climb as more and more power is ceded to the unaccountable executive branch to govern the programs. No oversight translates into a bureaucracy jobs program — paying federal workers billions to implement programs that have outlived their original mission.
Incredibly, it's been revealed that the government does not actually know the exact number of agencies, offices and government corporations it comprises. (A cursory count on various lists shows the number is in the several hundreds).