Congress and President Obama talk a good story when discussing the need for federal budget cuts, but Americans will know they are serious when they eliminate certain sacred cows from the federal budget. Over the past 17 months, the Obama Administration has made token attempts at budget cutting, promising cuts tomorrow if allowed to spend today. But, with an annual deficit of $1.2 trillion and public debt of $13,200,000,000,000.00, more stringent measures are needed.
While some officials have suggested limited cost containment, there are some programs, totaling over a trillion dollars, which neither Congress nor Obama seem to have considered cutting.
1. Cap the number of White House staffers & Czars: Czars have garnered a good bit of media attention over the past year, but little attention has been paid to the staff of these Czars. Currently, the Obama Administration has approximately 42 Czars and each of these czars comes with requirements for office space, technology, supplies and staff that amount to billions of taxpayer dollars. Getting a grip on the czar’s expenditures would equal or even exceed the $100billion-over-5-years budget cuts proposed by Defense Secretary Gates.
White House Staffers have also grown in number over the past two decades with approximately $40 million in pay. And, while a recent White House report on staff cites 17 fewer employees than last year, the report does not take into account the full contingent from the Vice President’s office, from OMB staff or Czars.
2. Eliminate Agency and Congressional slush funds: When Executive agency programs are cut, the funding is reallocated to other, internal agency priorities by the Agency head. When Agencies have programs that end early or have unused funds, these funds usually do not go back to the Treasury. In fact, it is very difficult to return unused funding to the Treasury department. The funding stays in a “slush” fund at Congress or at the federal agency, unmonitored, for the most part, except the Congressional or Agency CFOs, and often becomes the “go-to” place for pet projects or to cover agency or congressional over spending. These slush funds range from a few million to several hundred million and are not transparent to the American taxpayer, nor are most members of Congress aware of their existence or size.
3. Cut certain bonuses for federal workers: Public service is not supposed to be a path to wealth. Currently, federal agency employees can receive annual retention bonuses and signing incentive bonuses that can go as high as $50,000 per individual. At a time when unemployment is at 9.5% all signing and retention bonuses should be eliminated. These “bonuses” are one of the ways bureaucrats can augment a federal employee’s salary above the standard civil service pay scale. Retention and Incentive bonuses also carry no requirement for performance evaluation. Many federal workers receive retention bonuses each month for decades while employed by the federal government.
4. Eliminate phantom federal employees and their contingent slush funds: Federal Agencies never have on staff the full quota of employees allowed by OPM or their federal budgets because the hiring process is lengthy and there is a continual cycle of hiring and attrition at all federal agencies. However, each year, all Executive agencies place a line item in the federal budget and allocate the payroll & benefits costs as if these employees existed. The amount of federal funding allocated to these “phantom” employees is in the billions. This funding provides a convenient slush fund within federal agencies that can then be re-allocated mid-year to other agency priorities not approved by Congress.
5. Reduce the number of committees and subcommittees in Congress: Congress has approximately 23 House committees with 104 House subcommittees. The Senate has approximately 17 standing committees with 70 subcommittees. In addition, there are approximately 69 Joint (Senate/House) committees as well as several Conference committees. Committees require staff ranging from office administrators to chiefs-of-staff to general counsels to research assistants. These personnel require office space, supplies, technology and travel expenses to perform their duties. All of this occurs at taxpayer expense.
With fewer congressional committees and less staff, there might be less time and resources devoted to witch-hunts and show trials, and more effort spent on the business of government.
Congress and President Obama have been myopic, thinking that the primary way to improve the nation’s bottom line is by increasing taxes on American citizens. Yet, any good businessman knows that creating sustainable economic growth requires both an increase in revenue and cuts in expenditures. After 17 months of out-of-control, bloated legislation costing trillions of dollars, Congress and Obama have shown they are serious about spending. Now let’s see them get serious about budget cuts.