House Budget Committee Approves Bipartisan Bill to Bolster CBO’s Access to Agency Data

Last week, the House Budget Committee held an oversight hearing on the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Members reviewed the CBO’s operations with Director Phillip Swagel and discussed ways to improve the accuracy of its cost estimates. Following up on that session, the Committee convened Tuesday morning for a markup session on a proposal to make it easier for CBO to get data it needs from federal agencies.

At the forefront is the Congressional Budget Office Data Sharing Act (H.R.7032), a bipartisan initiative introduced by the Committee’s Ranking Member Brendan Boyle (D-PA) and Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-TX). This proposal seeks to enhance CBO’s ability to get the data it needs from executive agencies. In 2021, CBO detailed the challenges and delays it encounters as it negotiates data sharing agreements with agencies. The Data Sharing Act aims to streamline CBO's data access, reduce delays, and foster collaboration with Congressional committees by dismantling barriers obstructing access to legally protected information, clarifying data-use agreements, ensuring confidentiality protections, and bolstering transparency through mandated reports.

In the words of Ranking Member Boyle, “it is just a matter of good common sense that if [the CBO is] in good faith attempting to do the best job possible for Congress, and they are asking us for stronger tools in order to serve them better, then we need to do our job and make sure they have these tools.” This sentiment underscores the importance of providing the necessary resources and support for the CBO to fulfill its crucial role in informing legislative decisions.

Last year, the Senate unanimously passed a similar bill (S. 1549) introduced by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Susan Collins (R-ME). At the time, NTUF wrote:

Congress places a lot of demands on CBO to analyze legislation and to do so in a timely manner so that members can review cost estimates before considering proposals. The bipartisan CBO Data Access Act would make it easier for CBO to get the data it needs. With expedited access to more detailed data, CBO can more efficiently provide higher quality cost estimates to Congress.

The Budget Committee also took up two other reform bills. The Preventive Health Savings Act (H.R.766), introduced by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), aims to have CBO provide additional long-term budget projections related to potential savings in proposals providing for preventive health care. Upon request of the chair or ranking member of specified House and Senate committees, CBO would determine whether there could be long-term savings in legislation by looking beyond the traditional 10-year budget window to two additional decades. It defines preventive health as measures “to protect, promote, and maintain health and wellness and prevent disease, disability, and premature death that is demonstrated by credible and publicly available evidence from epidemiological projection models, clinical trials, observational studies in humans, longitudinal studies, and meta-analysis.” 

Long-term projections have greater degrees of uncertainty than the regular time frames included in CBO’s analyses, but the analysis could provide additional context for proposals. CBO has been working on bolstering its analytical capacity in this area. For example, last fall it posted a request for research regarding obesity and modeling how treatments could impact the budget. 

The third bill is the Eliminate Useless Reports Act of 2023 (H.R.5301), introduced by Reps. Robert Garcia (D-CA) and Glenn Grothman (R-WI), which aims to increase bureaucratic efficiency. The bill requires agencies to include a list of outdated or duplicative reporting requirements in their annual budget justifications. Through this process, agencies are tasked with identifying and evaluating unnecessary reports and to provide recommendations for either modifying or eliminating reporting requirements. 

These reforms could produce modest budgetary savings and free up staff time spent on producing and cataloging reports that no one ever reads. The bill also outlines a process for the relevant congressional committees to follow up on recommendations to reduce unneeded reports. This holistic approach to streamlining government reporting would seek to enhance efficiency and contribute to prudent fiscal governance.

These three bills would represent meaningful steps toward a more transparent, accountable, and fiscally responsible government. By streamlining processes, promoting evidence-based decision-making, and eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, these bills would work towards ensuring that taxpayer dollars are utilized effectively.