Oct 15

A Plan To Effectively Address Failed Federal Government Programs

Government spending can be dissected down to two categories: quantity and quality. The vast majority of Americans are incensed by the irresponsible profligate spending of trillions of our tax dollars much of which we can’t afford or the government shouldn’t be involved in. The federal government has racked up trillions of dollars of debt presently and may have us on the hook for a few hundred trillions of dollars of obligations long term – obviously an untenable situation.

Then there is the other well known aspect of spending: inefficiency. The government may be spending money for worthwhile causes or ideas but is doing so either in very inefficient ways or the expenditures are not having the desired effects.

Darrell Issa, the ranking Republican member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has suggested ways to address the quality and inefficiency issues related to government spending. In the article below, he outlines what he sees as an effective approach to a major aspect of government waste of our money.

A Plan To End Failed Federal Programs
Rep. Darrell Issa   10/13/2010

Many Americans are noticing a fundamental disconnect in American life between the amount of resources consumed by government — including an $814 billion stimulus, a $3.5 trillion budget and a $13.5 trillion national debt — and the lack of results delivered to the taxpayers.

Since the president took office, the economy has lost more than 2.5 million jobs and unemployment today stands at 9.6% and rising.

Americans are demanding that policymakers identify those federal programs that are not working and stop wasting their money on them. But the spending addiction of politicians in both parties and the power of special interests in Washington have combined to prevent necessary reforms.

For example, despite the president's inaugural promise to end inefficient federal programs, he proposed just $17 billion in cuts for 2010. Congress, however, agreed to cut only $6.8 billion, less than one-fifth of one percent of the entire federal budget.

How can failing programs be identified? Congress and presidents of both parties have tried.

The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) passed during the Clinton administration directed federal agencies to produce strategic plans, annual performance reports and outcome-based measures of performance.

President Bush implemented the Performance Assessment Rating Tool (PART) to rate all federal programs on their effectiveness at delivering results to the public.

These efforts have been worthwhile. GPRA enabled the public to find information about federal agency performance on each agency's Web site. And this information has gotten better over time.

One estimate suggests the quality of performance information improved by 75% in the 10 years after GPRA was signed into law. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), the use of this information by government bureaucrats and managers has increased.

The use of the PART process by the Bush administration brought additional progress. GAO found that PART "aided the (Office of Management and Budget's) oversight of agencies, focused agencies' efforts to improve program management and created or enhanced an evaluation culture within agencies."

Studies show that the results of the PART process were used constructively by President Bush in his budget recommendations.

So why are taxpayers not seeing better returns for their money? Quite simply, Congress rarely uses the publicly-available information about federal program performance when allocating taxpayer funds. According to Jerry Ellig, an economist at George Mason University, "The available studies suggest that performance information has had . .. very little influence on congressional budgeting decisions."

In other words, Congress remains stuck in its ways, often more concerned with special interests and pet projects than improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government.

The appropriate role of the federal government will continue to be a subject of partisan debate, and it should. But in the meantime, members of both parties should agree on the need for more accountability for federal spending. This accountability is only possible through identifying failure and ensuring that it has consequences.

One method of establishing consequences for failure would be a federal program sunset commission, composed of a bipartisan group of outside experts empowered to review every federal program and make recommendations to Congress concerning the improvement, consolidation or elimination of those programs that do not deliver sufficient results to the American people.

An independent commission would foster objectivity without playing favorites among political constituencies. Within one year of a commission review, a failing program would be abolished automatically unless reauthorized by Congress.

Failing federal programs must end, and to achieve this goal Washington needs to change the fundamental incentives facing politicians and special interest groups. While a sunset commission would certainly leave Congress free to reauthorize wasteful programs, it would force the debate into the public square and compel politicians to justify wasteful spending on programs that the independent commission has said are not working.

While many of us will continue to disagree with the president's faith in the wisdom of controlling ever more of the American people's resources from Washington, we can at least agree that taxpayers should get the biggest possible bang for their bucks.

Through the establishment of a nonpartisan, independent commission to evaluate federal programs and eliminate failing and redundant programs, we can begin the long road back to efficient, effective government and fiscal sanity.

Issa, who represents California's 49th congressional district (northern San Diego County), is the ranking Republican member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.


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