Budget negotiators should pick the low-hanging fruit

Thomas Schatz Citizens Against Government Waste
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When the government shutdown ended on October 16, Congress was given the opportunity to produce an agreement on the fiscal year 2014 Budget Resolution by December 13. But the odds are against a “grand bargain,” as it is likely that the negotiations will once again stall on the issue of raising taxes or cutting entitlements.

At the very least, the budget conference committee could agree to consolidate or eliminate the overlapping and duplicative programs that run rampant throughout the federal government. This waste has been identified by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’s budget watchdog, in annual reports each of the last three years.
Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has estimated that the cost of these programs is $295 billion annually. On March 22, the Senate agreed to his amendment to consolidate dozens of these duplicative programs by a vote of 62-37. The conference committee should follow through on the Senate vote and reduce duplication, overlap, and waste in federal programs, such as the following:

  • $15 billion spent on 679 renewable energy initiatives at 23 federal agencies and their 130 sub-agencies.
  • $13 billion in savings, or approximately $450 million per year, by eliminating the inefficient $1 paper notes and switching exclusively to a $1 coin, which nearly every industrialized country has done.
  • $7 billion for overlapping services by three federal agencies offering financing assistance to small businesses.
  • $4.5 billion for 76 programs to prevent or treat drug abuse spread across 15 agencies.
  • $50 to $200 million for 159 contracting organizations in 10 different Defense Department components providing defense foreign language support.

The list goes on; GAO found 17 areas of government duplication and 14 areas of potential cost savings in its 2013 report alone. It is difficult for taxpayers to understand why Congress would not consolidate or eliminate the 94 federal initiatives across 11 agencies that encourage “green building” in the private sector, the more than 50 federal programs across 20 agencies that promote financial literacy, or the 47 job training programs that cost more than $18 billion annually.

Currency modernization is the perfect example of a proven means to achieve significant budget savings. Transitioning from the dollar bill to the dollar coin could save taxpayers $13 billion without raising a single tax or cutting a single program. Solutions like these, which are supported by a majority of taxpayers, will start the nation on the path to deficit reduction.

Even for members of Congress, it is difficult to argue that the federal government is not wasteful and inefficient. If they are going to get serious about addressing the deficit, they only have three options on the table – raising revenues, cutting programs, or making the government work more efficiently. This last option should be uncontroversial.

The question for members of Congress is not “will you avoid another shutdown?” but “will you finally clean up the waste in the federal budget?” The programs detailed in GAO’s reports should serve as a starting point for budget negotiators as they inch Congress toward establishing a fiscally responsible future.