This week the Congressional Budget Office reflects on its past while looking to its future.
The first Director of the agency, Alice Rivlin, passed away this Tuesday. Rivlin led the CBO from 1975 through 1983. Current Director Keith Hall memorialized Dr. Rivlin on CBO’s website:
With vision, wisdom, and determination, she established the agency’s structure and formulated procedures, standards, and goals that have guided it for more than four decades. Above all, she forged a commitment to providing objective, nonpartisan information to help the Congress make eﬀective budget and economic policy. And her commitment to high-quality analysis, well thought out and clearly presented, continues to be a guiding principle of CBO.
On Wednesday, Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Mike Enzi (R-WY) and House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) named Dr. Phillip L. Swagel as the successor for Dr. Hall, whose four-year term officially expired in January. Swagel previously held positions within the Treasury Department, the Council of Economic Advisers, and the Federal Reserve Board and is currently a professor of International Economic Policy at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.
It is expected that Swagel will build on the important and much needed steps undertaken by Hall to improve openness at CBO. It has often been beset by scoring controversies, but in the wake of very serious concerns over CBO's questionable analyses of proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act, votes were held on amendments to de-fund the agency. In response, Hall made transparency a top priority and CBO has since published many reports regarding its processes and methodologies for scoring legislation.
Dr. Rivlin helped chart out CBO's role as an independent scorekeeper, yet there is also an important role for Congressional leaders to fulfill to ensure that CBO is functioning effectively and providing accurate budget data. During the 115th Congress, the House and Senate budget committees re-doubled their oversight responsibilities of CBO with a series of historic hearings. This effort should be continued throughout the current Congress to assist CBO's new leadership. And since many of the controversies swirling around CBO are due to the requirements and constraints that Congress has placed on it, improving budgetary rules would also bolster transparency and accuracy.