This week, the House of Representatives will consider the
Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill for FY 1996. The bill will
provide systemic congressional reforms as important as any yet
enacted, including spending cuts, privatization, and abolition of
unnecessary offices and functions. The only significant reforms the
bill fails to address are a pay freeze for Members of Congress and
a reduction in Members' staff and office expenses. Amendments on
these topics may be offered on the House floor.
The House bill proposes to reduce legislative branch spending
by nearly $155 million next year, or about 8 percent. When the
Senate, which is responsible for its own budget, adds its
anticipated cuts, savings should exceed $200 million. If
proportional cuts were made in all government spending, the deficit
would be reduced by approximately $143 billion. These cuts are
achieved through major restructuring and economies in congressional
operations. If the Clinton Administration's "Reinventing
Government" efforts had resulted in similarly proportioned
reductions, 80 percent of the $176 billion FY1995 federal deficit
would be eliminated.
Among the major spending reductions in the bill are:
- A 25 percent cut in the General Accounting Office's
appropriation over two years.
- Elimination of 2,350 jobs from congressional payrolls, an 8.6
- Removal of funding for constituent copies of the
- Cancellation of subscriptions to the entire United States Code
for every lawmaker.
The bill will require congressional agencies to absorb pay
increases at their current level of funding, and all agencies
(except the Library of Congress) will be held to the previous
year's level of funding or below.
Working with the House Oversight Committee, the Appropriations
Committee determined that a number of operations currently
performed by congressional agencies could be accomplished more
efficiently by the private sector. The bill privatizes several
functions immediately and requires studies in other areas.
The General Accounting Office is pushed to privatize its
administrative functions, such as printing, mail handling, and
library services. It also will be provided with funds to contract
out some of its auditing work so that it can benefit from the lower
costs available in the private sector.
The bill will abolish the "revolving funds" that support House
barber shops, beauty shops, and recording studios, leaving those
services to be performed on a break-even basis. Direct funding for
an office devoted solely to flying flags over the Capitol (which
are then sent to constituents) is also eliminated. Responsibility
for this operation, estimated to cost over $325,000 per year, will
be turned over to the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.
Preparing for additional privatization efforts, the bill
instructs the Office of the Architect to issue requests for
proposals for private-sector bids for U.S. Capitol custodial
services. The Architect is also ordered to study privatization of
the Capitol's $11 million power plant.
The bill eliminates the $21 million Office of Technology
Assessment, an agency many criticize as redundant. The House
Special Services Office, which serves as a kind of concierge for
Members, House Administrators, and favored guests, is also
eliminated by the appropriations measure. Funding for the Joint
Committee on Printing is cut sharply with eventual abolition in
view. Similarly, the bill funds the Joint Economic Committee in
FY1996 (cutting its funding, however, by $1.2 million), but the
committee report suggests there will be no funding in 1997.
In a minor disappointment the bill fails to eliminate the
century-old Government Printing Office, but does impose several
economies on printing operations. Representative Scott Klug (R-WI)
has estimated that it is three times as expensive for GPO to print
any document than it is for a private sector firm. The highly
competitive private printing industry is a strong argument against
retaining the GPO and its yearly budget of $121 million.
In moves to streamline operations and reduce Congress's
administrative duties, the appropriations bill would remove
non-legislative activities from direct congressional supervision.
With the cooperation of the House Oversight Committee, it will
place the House post office under Postal Service supervision and,
as of next year, transfer control of the Botanical Garden to the
Especially in view of simultaneous reforms by the House
Oversight Committee, the bill is a tremendous improvement over the
legislative appropriations of previous Congresses. However, some
areas for potential improvement remain:
Because Members' salaries (currently $133,600 per year) are
funded by a permanent, indefinite appropriation rather than through
the annual appropriations bill, they are nearly invulnerable to
legislative change when the rest of Congress's budget is under
discussion. Congress should work to make Members' salaries a
legislative appropriations line item and eliminate the automatic
salary COLA that, unless Congress acts, gives each Member an
automatic pay hike. Such an automatic pay raise violates the spirit
of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that
Members must stand for reelection before any pay raise they vote on
takes effect. At the very least, this year's legislative
appropriations bill should eliminate the pay hike that otherwise
would automatically go into effect.
This year's appropriation combines the three Members' personal
allowance accounts (staff salaries, office expenses, and official
mail) into one appropriation, a positive step to increase
flexibility and ease administrative burdens. However, the combined
account is increased by over 2 percent to over $360 million due to
increases in staff salaries and mail funding. Although increases in
postal rates and population may justify some adjustment of mail
allowances, it is difficult to make similar arguments for an
increase in the aggregate staff salary appropriation. During the
debate at the beginning of this year over the elimination of
Legislative Service Organizations, advocates of LSO abolition
intimated that a substantial portion of their $5 million yearly
expense would be saved. In fact, even steeper staff cuts are
justified. A 10 percent ($25 million) cut in the staff salary
portion of the new combined account would deliver the savings
promised from LSO elimination and extend the staff reductions
achieved in almost every other congressional operation to Member's
personal offices for the first time.
In an era of downsizing and restructuring, the House's
willingness to examine Congress itself for savings is a welcome
response to citizens' demands for economy in government. Although
amendments to freeze Members' pay and cut personal staff funding
are still needed, the Legislative Branch Appropriation for Fiscal
Year 1996 represents a radical and welcome departure from politics