During the last election, Americans spoke loud and clear. Regardless of the political party they belong to, they want Congress focused on the economy, and they want us to work together to get our nation’s fiscal house in order.
Specifically, they want Congress and the president to focus on reining in federal spending. We face a $14 trillion debt, and every day we wait to take responsible steps to control spending, we leave our fiscal situation less sustainable for the future. The markets are demanding immediate action. Just last week, Standard & Poor’s placed the United States’ AAA bond rating on a negative outlook, citing a greater than one in three chance of a downgrade within the next two years.
While there are plenty of areas where we disagree when it comes to the federal budget, we agree that it’s time for immediate reductions in government spending. We need to take action now, and a recent report by the Government Accountability Office offers a constructive suggestion for where to start. This eye-opening study identifies multiple overlapping federal government programs that, if consolidated or cut, could dramatically reduce administrative and overhead costs, among other savings. The duplicative programs span a range of federal government agencies from domestic food assistance and education to homeland security and defense. For example:
■ More than 20 federal programs address homelessness, spanning seven federal agencies, including the departments of education, health and human services, labor and veterans affairs.
■ At least 44 programs run by the departments of education, health and human services, and labor provide employment and training services.
■ There are 80 economic development programs at four agencies, 52 of which have authority to fund “entrepreneurial efforts.”
■ More than two dozen individuals appointed by the president are responsible for biodefense.
■ And 15 agencies are involved in food safety — a costly overlap that Government Accountability Office reports has caused inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination and an inefficient use of resources.
This report is a wake-up call for anyone who cares about saving taxpayers’ money and reducing waste in the federal budget. Conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C., has been that authorizations don’t add to the deficit. This just isn’t true. With every new program that Congress creates, comes a new constituency asking for new federal funding. Throughout time, spending on these programs tends to increase, creating a new baseline for further increases, freezes or cuts.
And while many of these programs were created with good intentions, they also were often created without first examining whether a similar program already existed. In fact, most departments and agencies are not even able to tell Congress how many programs have been authorized. We need to study which federal programs are needed and which can be consolidated or cut.
Last month, we proposed legislation that would create a Committee to Reduce Government Waste. This committee would add teeth to Congress’ ongoing efforts to pare down our national budget, save taxpayer dollars and strengthen the economy by chipping away at the federal debt.
Our bill would require the committee to submit a report to the Senate at least once a year identifying under-performing and wasteful government programs in need of cuts or elimination. The report’s recommendations would receive expedited consideration in the Senate. The committee would be composed of 12 members, four from each of the Senate finance, appropriations and budget committees. The Senate majority and minority leaders each would pick six members, and each member’s service would be limited to six years.
This is an idea that has worked before. A similar committee was formed in response to increased government spending during World War II. That committee succeeded in saving more than $38 billion in present dollars throughtout three years just by reducing wasteful spending. We are convinced that such a committee, if reconstituted today, could save more than $100 billion.
That is real money.
While we acknowledge that it will take more than cuts to duplicative discretionary programs to reduce our structural debt, this is an obvious and important place to begin. Each American’s share of our current debt equals $42,000. It’s time to reconstitute a similar committee to bring more fiscal accountability to Washington and much-needed relief to taxpayers.
Mark Udall is a Democratic senator from Colorado and Orrin Hatch is a Republican senator from Utah.