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Executive Summary #1313es on Federal Budget

July 23, 1999

July 23, 1999 | Executive Summary on Federal Budget

Executive Summary: Crafting a Responsible Budget: The Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriation

The House of Representatives recently passed an appropriations bill that would provide $14.3 billion in discretionary funding to the Department of the Interior and related agencies. The Senate Appropriations Committee recommends spending about $14.1 billion. The proposed funding levels for the Department of the Interior and related agencies are well below the levels requested by the Clinton Administration ($15.3 billion) and slightly less than the current appropriations for these programs ($14.4 billion).

It is important to note that the full House and the Senate Appropriations Committee were able to meet the Section 302b funding allocations established by Congress to maintain spending caps in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 only by increasing the Section 302b level. This is a grievous error, which the Senate should correct when it votes on the Interior appropriations bill reported out of its Appropriations Committee. There is little point in establishing funding allocations to maintain fiscal discipline if Congress raises the limits every time it has more money to spend than it anticipated.

After pledging to maintain the spending caps and devote 100 percent of the off-budget surplus to saving Social Security, Congress should not abandon this commitment to fiscal discipline on the basis of projected surpluses that have not materialized yet. If it is truly committed to maintaining the spending caps, the Senate must find savings in the Department of the Interior's natural resources programs and maintain these savings during conference committee negotiations with the House. Such action would make it more likely that Congress can deliver on its pledge to strengthen Social Security and cut taxes.

Fortunately, the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill (S. 1292 and H.R. 2466) includes many programs that could be scaled back or eliminated. Congress could save some $2.6 billion in additional domestic discretionary spending in fiscal year 2000 if it took steps to (1) eliminate the unnecessary; (2) consolidate the redundant; and (3) privatize and make use of market forces.

To achieve these goals while improving the effectiveness of natural resources programs, Congress should:

  • Combine redundant administrative functions in the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, and the Minerals Management Agency, for a savings of $423 million;

  • Impose a moratorium on land acquisition by the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, and the National Park Service, which the Congressional Budget Office recommended in April 1999, for a savings of $151 million;

  • Privatize the U.S. Geological Survey and eliminate its functions that unfairly compete with private-sector mapping companies, for a savings of $813 million;

  • Eliminate funding for corporate pork disguised as research in the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy Research and Development programs and Energy Conservation Research Programs, for a savings of $1.018 billion;

  • Eliminate funding for the National Council for Historic Preservation and the Commission of Fine Arts, which duplicate functions of the National Park Service and the National Art Gallery, to save $4 million;

  • Eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and its programs that at best compete with private philanthropy, for a savings of $210 million; and

  • Eliminate funding for the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation, a forced ethnic relocation program based on ancient animosities between these two tribes, for a savings of $8 million.

The Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill should target funding to programs that protect and preserve America's natural resources. It should not be a vehicle for corporate pork, the maintenance of obsolete agencies, the perpetuation of redundant federal offices, or the expansion of mismanaged programs. Allocating resources to such programs as federal land management, which even federal watchdog agencies have shown do more harm than good, wastes taxpayer money and guarantees the federal government will need to spend more funding in the future to correct its mistakes.

Congress pledged to use the surplus for Social Security and tax relief. It cannot achieve these worthy goals without fiscal discipline. Eliminating obsolete programs, removing the federal government from private-sector activities, and shrinking or eliminating agencies and programs that have a history of chronic mismanagement are good ways to achieve its commitments.

Ever-changing missions, wasteful spending, costly management deficiencies, and federal infringements of state, local, and private-sector decisions plague the country's natural resource programs. The appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior offers Congress a good opportunity to address such problems. The House missed its opportunity to do so, but there still is time for the Senate to reclaim Congress's commitment to fiscal discipline.

Peter Sperry is a former Budget Policy Analyst in The Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

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