Most Expensive Bill of the Week
The Bill: S. 2254, the COPS Improvements Act of 2014
Cost Per Year: $649 million ($3.2 billion over five years)
The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program is one of the federal government’s efforts to improve public safety, aimed at enhancing and expanding the capabilities of local police departments (For additional related programs, see page 125 of this report). At its core were three different grants that city and municipal governments could apply for in order to hire or rehire personnel, hire and educate former military service members for law enforcement purposes, and funding advancements in technologies, techniques, and tactics for local units.
Over the decades, the President and Congress have used COPS grants for different purposes. When the program was created, the Clinton Administration aimed to hire 100,000 new police officers (though the actual number hired fell far short of the claim). The effort was in response to a rise in violent crimes and was authorized by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, but the federal government has funded local policing efforts since a similar omnibus crime-related act was passed in 1968.
As the economy continued to improve through the 1990s and American culture changed, violent crime fell while other law enforcement problems developed. Congress changed priorities in 1998 from officer recruitment to helping departments “purchase new equipment, combat methamphetamine production, upgrade criminal records, and improve forensic sciences.” In the wake of the 2008 recession, Congress rededicated more tax dollars for police hiring as part of President Obama’s “stimulus” bill in 2010. Thereafter, hiring spending resumed minimal levels.
The changes in priorities for the COPS program had a resulting shift in its spending levels. As the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports, grants and administrative expenses totaled a high of $1.6 billion in 1998 while the last three fiscal years have been consistent at around $200 million, the lowest in the program’s history. However, the Department of Justice and Congress have transferred some of the activities traditionally under COPS authority to other accounts, which appear on paper as a reduction in COPS spending. CRS also points out that the Congressional earmark ban has cut down on program spending that has been criticized as wasteful. These changes have led to other agencies being assigned COPS-related tasks, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency being given sole authority to assist in cleaning up methamphetamine labs.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has introduced S. 2254 to reauthorize the COPS program through FY 2019. As in previous reauthorizations, the bill would continue to fund hiring and rehiring efforts as well as provide funds for equipment and training. Senator Klobuchar said that the “COPS program provides critical resources to local police departments to ensure they can hire and train law enforcement officers, and [S. 2254] will help make sure this program has the support it deserves.”
The program was last authorized in FY 2009 at a funding level of $1.047 billion. In the current year it employs 118 workers and will spend $214 million on COPS grants and $37 million on management and administration. The COPS Improvements Act would reauthorize the program at $900 million, for a net increase of $649 million.
The Bottom Line: The COPS Improvement Act would reauthorize the COPS program to hire more police officers and buy more equipment for local departments. S. 2254 could increase federal spending by $3.2 billion over five years.
Least Expensive Bill of the Week
The Bill: H.R. 4649, a bill to prohibit funding to the Voice of America
Savings Per Year: $196 million (one-year savings)
Many Americans are well aware of other nations’ international news outlets (such as Al Jazeera, the BBC, and Russia Today), but what they may not know is that the U.S. has operated overseas broadcasts of its own since the second World War and through the Cold War, which continue to this day.
In 1942, as World War II was raging in Europe, North Africa, and across the Pacific, the United States formally created the Office of War Information, and within it, the Voice of America (VOA). VOA was established as a radio broadcasting outlet, and its mission was to carry news to European populations that had limited or no exposure to accurate information during the war. After the war ended, VOA continued operating during the Cold War era under the Department of State, alongside government-funded anti-communism programming such as Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe.
In 1994, Congress established the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in order to oversee all of the government’s international broadcasting services. The BBG now operates five separate broadcasters, including Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Radio and TV Marti (which broadcasts to Cuba), and VOA. VOA has a less regional, more global reach and broadcasts around the world via satellite television, shortwave radio, and FM radio affiliates. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimates that VOA had a weekly audience of 164.6 million in FY 2013, making it the only one of BBG’s five outlets to have experienced a growth in viewers or listeners from the previous year.
The BBG maintains the importance of its mission to “inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy,” and supporters point to the programming’s ability to reach audiences in especially repressive regimes across the globe. However, critics of U.S. international broadcasting claim that the programming is duplicative and poorly managed. A State Department Office of Inspector General report from 2013 described the BBG’s leadership as “ineffectual,” “unprofessional,” and “unproductive,” suggesting that its part-time membership made sound decision-making difficult. That same year, a Government Accountability Office report found that there was significant overlap involving 43 of 69 BBG services. CRS also noted the seemingly conflicting goals BBG programming attempts to accomplish: on the one hand, the law authorizing international broadcasts requires all reporting to be objective and balanced; yet the law also requires BBG programming to advance U.S. foreign policy interests.
Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ)* introduced H.R. 4649 as part of his Shrink Our Spending (SOS) initiative. While the bill does not defund all BBG operations, it does prohibit funding for VOA specifically. “Unbiased news reporting is important in countries where freedom of the press is limited. Because of this, the United States already funds organizations tasked with disseminating unfiltered news to regions of the world that lack a free press. While a worthy cause, it is not one VOA was primarily tasked to do,” he said in a release. NTUF has also covered two other SOS bills by Rep. Salmon in The Taxpayer’s Tab including one to defund the Science and Technology Account of the Environmental Protection Agency and one to prohibit funding of the National Labor Relations Board.
According to the budget, BBG spent $196 million on VOA programming efforts in FY 2013. NTUF will score H.R. 4649 as a one-year savings equal to that amount. The President’s FY 2015 budget proposal includes a request of $212 million for VOA, including an expansion of its English learning programming.
* NTUF does not have a current BillTally report for Congressman Salmon. BillTally reports for Congresses prior to 2001 are available upon request.
The Bottom Line: H.R. 4649 would end funding for Voice of America, a government-sponsored international broadcasting outlet, which would save $196 million.
The Bill: H.R. 4628, the Military Opportunities for Mothers (MOM) Act
Cost Per Year: “No Cost” – Conditional
Number of Cosponsors: 80 House Members
Americans across the country observed Mother’s Day and Memorial Day this month, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have introduced legislation that would offer extended maternity leave for women in the military.
Congresswomen Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)* and Kristi Noem (R-SD) have introduced the Military Opportunities for Mothers (MOM) Act along with 80 House cosponsors, including 53 Democrats and 27 Republicans. Rep. Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and former Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs after President Obama appointed her to the post in 2009, cited the specific professional difficulties that military mothers face: “[G]oing back to work after having a child is one of the most difficult days. ... But when you ... return to a military base halfway around the world instead of an office around the corner, that day can be even more difficult. Extending maternity leave and offering more time to recover from childbirth is the least we can do for these mothers who have not only made sacrifices for our children, but for their entire country.”
Under current law, women who give birth during the course of military service are offered up to 6 weeks of maternity leave before they’re required to return to duty. Rep. Duckworth’s bill would offer new mothers the option to double that time to 12 weeks, under the condition that they could not receive any pay during the second 6 weeks. The MOM Act would bring Service Members’ maternity benefits in line with those enjoyed by federal civilian employees, who, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, are entitled to 12 weeks off after giving birth. It was included as an amendment to the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives.
According to a 2012 demographic report from Military OneSource, women made up 14.6 percent of Department of Defense Active Duty membership. About 43 percent of Active Duty members were under the age of 25, which is the average age at which members reported having their first child. Extended maternity leave could have a particularly significant impact on the 5.2 percent of Active Duty members who are single parents.
Normally, the extension of paid leave or the addition of a paid holiday to federal employees would be scored as a cost to the federal government. For example, the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2009 (reintroduced in the current Congress as H.R. 517) proposed to provide an additional four weeks of paid leave to federal employees following the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child. The Congressional Budget Office determined that this would cost the federal government $938 million over five years. However, the MOM Act would revoke pay during the extra 6 weeks of leave, making it possible that the proposal could reduce federal outlays to whatever extent service members choose to take extended maternity leave. However, NTUF is unable to project how many members are likely to elect that option.
* NTUF does not have a BillTally report for Congresswoman Duckworth because she is a freshman Representative.
The Bottom Line: The MOM Act would offer an additional 6 weeks of unpaid maternity leave to women in the military.