On March 29 the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed the Identifying and Eliminating Wasteful Programs Act, introduced by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Mike Braun (R-IN). After the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published its analysis of the bill on May 23, a news article summed it up as "Measure to identify government waste won't save money, CBO says."
Not so fast.
The bill would require each federal agency to compile a list of unnecessary programs. The text sets out the criteria considering a program as “wasteful” if:
It is unnecessary, defunct, or unnecessarily duplicative of other federal programs;
Another agency could administer the program more effectively; or,
It could operate more effectively if the program or activity were consolidated with other programs or activities.
Each agency’s list would ultimately be submitted to Congress in their annual budget justifications, and would be included in the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) inventory of federal programs. Agencies could also submit recommendations to Congress for legislation to eliminate or consolidate the programs identified.
In short, this bipartisan reform would make it easier to identify wasteful government programs for either consolidation or elimination. Congress would still need to act on the information and pass legislation to save money, but Sens. Hassan’s and Braun’s proposal would provide meaningful insight at very little cost to taxpayers.
Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Representatives Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Nancy Mace (R-SC). When the bill was introduced previously in 2021 during the 117th Congress, Sen. Hassan stated:
Cutting down on wasteful government spending is common sense, and it’s why I helped bring together members in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to introduce legislation to save taxpayer dollars.
In its score of the bill, CBO noted that the federal government already reviews ways to identify wasteful, overlapping programs, so the administrative costs to implement the bill would not significantly impact federal spending. Since the bill itself would not directly consolidate or eliminate any programs, they wrote, it would have no immediate scorable savings.
But the proposal would make federal agencies and Congress actually work together to identify wasteful programs. It would encourage agencies, OMB, and Congress to help create a comprehensive inventory of ineffective programs that burden taxpayers. It is a good step towards further action to consolidate or eliminate government waste. Any savings would be recorded by CBO if and when Congress subsequently acted on the increased agency reporting requirements to enact budgetary reforms. Sen. Hassan added that the core aim of this bill is to “create a system to facilitate agency identification of wasteful programs and assist Congress with developing legislation to eliminate those programs.”
Indeed. While the Identifying and Eliminating Wasteful Programs Act may not yield CBO-scorable immediate savings, it lays the foundation for a more efficient and accountable government by facilitating the identification and elimination of wasteful programs. By promoting transparency and collaboration between federal agencies and Congress, this bipartisan reform would take an important step. Ultimately, it remains the responsibility of lawmakers to act to reform or eliminate these wasteful programs so that taxpayers reap the benefits of savings over the long run.