Wednesday, September 9, 2015


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The biggest fiasco of the year is about to occur. No, it is not a Presidential debate. It is the travesty of the budget battle for Fiscal 2016.

The budget battle will begin in earnest after Labor Day. Republicans will take things to the brink without a strategy or preparing their case for frugality. This is a recipe for disaster.

Republicans have been in charge of the entire Legislative Branch since their landslide victory on November 4, 2014. When Members of Congress adjourned for their five-week August Recess not one Appropriation Bill had passed. The House had passed only six of the required twelve Appropriation bills. The Senate had not taken one vote. After eight years of telling voters Republicans could govern better than Democrats the budgetary results are actually worse.

When Congress reconvenes on September 8, 2015 it will have only ten legislative days to avoid a government shut down or continuing resolution. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew also formally requested another raise in the Debt Ceiling. What have they been doing for nine months?

So far there has only been posturing about defunding federal support of Planned Parenthood and somehow punishing the Environmental Protection Agency for its obtuse overreach. The collective fiscal impact of these actions is microscopic. No Republican, not even any of the Presidential candidates, is offering real solutions to reining-in rampant government spending and debt.

At the same time, federal agencies are proceeding with their annual rite of spending over a third of their budgets in the last three months of the fiscal year. Each year, potential savings evaporate in an orgy of expedited procurements and questionable spending during the mad dash to spend every penny before midnight on September 30. No efforts at frugality here; agencies would rather guard their budgetary turf than save money for taxpayers.

Even Tony Scott, Obama’s Chief Information Officer for the Executive Branch, has called out his colleagues declaring the year end spending binge, “a mad dash to load up the shopping carts”. No Republican has raised their voice against year-end spending. Holding agencies to spending only 25 percent of their funds in the 4th quarter would save $105 billion a year.

It gets worse – the brinksmanship over spending and raising the debt ceiling ignores a set of mind boggling facts.
  • Nearly a trillion dollars in unobligated funds are hiding in plain sight. Page 11, Table 1, of the Office of Management and Budget’s spreadsheets for assets and balances lists $909,122,000,000 as unspent and unobligated. President Obama is the first President since Lyndon Johnson to not require a “budget sweep” to return these orphaned funds to general use. There is no reason for a debt ceiling increase when they could resolve the matter by a push of a button.
  • There is $650 billion dollars in annual documented waste that could guide budget cuts. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), and 73 Agency and Department Inspector Generals, publish an average of 9,000 reports every year that document this waste to specific accounts and programs. These public reports also provide specific recommendations for how to stop the ongoing hemorrhaging of tax dollars. In 2015, the House Appropriators held 128 hearings relating to agency funding requests. Only four of those hearings included Inspector Generals. None included the GAO. None of these hearings included outside oversight groups who document and publicize government waste.
  • None of the House passed Appropriation bills call for hiring freezes or any slowdown in expanding the number of bureaucrats. Each year the Federal Executive Branch loses over 60,000 employees to retirements or voluntary departures. There was not one single hearing by Republicans to discuss ways to stop the treadmill of filling every vacancy no matter how obsolete or redundant. Federal agencies have 9 to 23 layers of management between front line workers and top officials. Are every one of these layers and every functionary needed? Republicans have never asked this question. An across the board hiring freeze would save $350 billion a year.
Let the games begin!

[Scot Faulkner served as Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives and on President Reagan’s White House Staff.]

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