finally becoming aware that growth in federal spending has gotten
out of control? Although a single hearing shouldn't spark excessive
exuberance among the fiscally responsible, there is some evidence
that Members of Congress are becoming increasingly open to
addressing long-term budget problems and using performance
budgeting as a tool in this effort.
In a subcommittee
hearing earlier this month, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) heard
testimony from Comptroller General David Walker and OMB Deputy
Director Clay Johnson III. They testified that federal spending
growth looms as a major problem and that performance budgeting can
be part of the solution. Sen. Coburn agreed. "One of the greatest
impediments to the President's vision of an ownership society," he
said, "is an inside-the-beltway entitlement society in which
federal agencies expect ever-increasing budgets regardless of their
How refreshing to hear such a sentiment from a Member of
The President's Management
Since early in his
first term, President George W. Bush has been trying to make the
federal government more results-oriented through his President's
Management Agenda. Central to that agenda has been a systematic
review of every federal program with the Program Assessment Rating
Tool (PART). So far, three-fifths of all government programs have
received their initial reviews, and the remainder will be completed
over the next two years.
testified that while the PART scores are contributing to an
increased supply of data about the performance of federal programs,
spending patterns have not yet changed. "It is not clear," he said, "that PART
has had any significant impact on authorization, appropriations,
and oversight activities to date." Congressional
buy-in to the concept of performance-based budgeting will be
necessary to work within the especially tight budgets of the near
Commissions May Be Part of the
It may also be
necessary to build a structural mechanism to act on PART findings.
The Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC) process has been successful
because it bundles the benefits of base realignment and closures
into a single package, rather than allowing a vote on each
individual base. That is the kind of approach that Clay Johnson,
deputy director for management at the Office of Management and
Budget (OMB), advocates. He testified that program performance has
already begun to improve during the short history the PART reviews,
but further improvement will require input from Congress:
also need to involve Congress more directly in holding agencies and
programs accountable for their performance through a Sunset
Commission, which provides regular, formal scrutiny of Federal
programs. This bipartisan commission would review each Federal
program on a schedule established by the Congress to determine
whether it is producing results and should continue to exist.
Programs would automatically terminate according to the schedule
unless the Congress took action to continue them.
Commissions" would change the status quo in Washington. Instead of
assuming that federal programs would continue indefinitely, the
assumption would be that a program ends when it has accomplished
its purpose. "A periodic reexamination offers the prospect of
addressing emerging needs by weeding out programs and policies that
are redundant, outdated, or ineffective," said Comptroller General
also spoke in favor of special commissions that would examine
specific government functions in a crosscutting fashion to
eliminate overlap and redundancy. These panels, called "Results
Commissions," would consist of experts from relevant fields whose
findings would be reviewed by Congress in an expedited manner.
Time to Cut the
Coburn intends to pursue this issue with further hearings in
Washington and around the country. He plans to use his Subcommittee
on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and
International Security to make the case for spending reform.
the executive branch and the legislative branch recognizing that
eliminating wasteful and ineffective programs should be a priority,
the time for ideas like Sunset Commissions and Results Commissions
may be at hand
Keith Miller is a
Research Assistant in, and Alison
Fraser is Director of, the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic
Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
Senator Tom Coburn, press release, "Dr.
Coburn Praises New Bush Administration Initiative to Improve
Effectiveness of Federal Programs," June 14, 2005.
Clay Johnson III, Testimony before the
Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management,
Information and International Security Committee on Homeland
Security and Governmental Affairs, June 14, 2005, at
For more information on these
commissions see Alison Acosta Fraser, "The President's Call To Fix
the Budget Process," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 660,
February 9, 2005, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Budget/wm660.cfm.