A balanced federal budget and projections of a $1.6 trillion surplus over the next ten years have encouraged many Washington policymakers to find more and more ways to pour tax dollars into new and bigger government programs. Consider the following:
Between fiscal year (FY) 1997 and FY 1998, federal domestic discretionary spending adjusted for inflation will increase $3.3 billion to reach $228.3 billion. President Clinton wants an additional $6 billion in federal spending in FY 1999 to reach a record $234.3 billion.
Fiscal year 1998 discretionary spending for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and related agencies (Labor-HHS-Education) is expected to reach $80.4 billion. The President requests an additional $1.5 billion in FY 1999 to increase spending to $81.9 billion.
Dozens of reports issued in recent years by such government watchdogs as the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) and various agency inspectors general confirm that many federal programs are not working. In addition, Congress now has in hand agencies' five-year strategic plans and FY 1999 annual performance plans, as required by the Government Performance and Results Act (Results Act) of 1993. These plans reinforce the concerns of many Americans that federal agencies are plagued by serious problems.
Fortunately, the House of Representatives has become far less willing to continue to feed the appetite of an ineffective, bloated federal bureaucracy. The House Appropriations Committee already has taken a bold first step by reporting an FY 1999 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill that begins to hold agencies accountable for poor performance, eliminates programs that are wasteful or no longer needed, and demands results from those that continue.
In evaluating this appropriations bill, Congress would be wise to look critically at the effectiveness of agency programs and the President's requests for funding increases. Specifically, Congress should follow the lead of the House Appropriations Committee and either terminate or reduce funding levels and reform many of the following programs because of their poor track records:
There is an old saying that the closest thing to immortality is a government program. But programs created to address problems the nation faced decades ago will not meet the needs of Americans in the 21st century. As Congress considers the FY 1999 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, it should take steps to terminate obsolete, redundant, and ineffective programs and fundamentally reevaluate their goals, priorities, and results.
Mark Wilson is a former Labor Economist at The Heritage Foundation; Nina H. Shokraii is a former Education Policy Analyst at The Heritage Foundation; and Angela Antonelli is a former Director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.