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Why Fiscal Conservatives Should Cheer the House’s Leg Branch Funding Bill

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Why Fiscal Conservatives Should Cheer the House’s Leg Branch Funding Bill

August 3, 2021

The House of Representatives passed the Legislative Branch funding bill last week--increasing funding for Congress, the Capitol Police, and related agencies by nearly 14 percent over last year’s budget. For fiscal conservatives concerned about the ballooning federal debt, this is one area of the budget where we should be cheering for more funding than less.

Lincoln Network’s Head of Policy Zach Graves recently led a coalition letter to Senators in support of the House spending bill and increasing the Legislative Branch’s capacity to executive its Article I responsibilities under the Constitution:

“On the path to build a stronger Congress, the House legislative branch appropriations bill for FY 2022 contains measures necessary for this Congressional resurgence. This includes a 21 percent increase for personal, committee, and leadership offices; which would help restore staff funding levels to where they were a decade ago. It also provides for a 10.3 percent increase for the government’s watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, which reports a savings of over $100 for each dollar of its budget in curbing waste, fraud, and abuse. Even if not intended as such, these funding levels would pave the way for a legislative branch capable of keeping big government in check....

Indeed, these resources, particularly for stronger committees and oversight capacity, are essential to help balance the unprecedented growth of federal spending during the COVID-19 pandemic and resist the Biden Administration’s agenda to expand the size and scope of government. Having this infrastructure in place now is particularly important as we head towards the 118th Congress, as it will take time to recruit and train new staff and have them in positions to be effective.”

Zach and the letter’s cosigners, including five former members of Congress, are absolutely right. Strengthening Congress is necessary to improve government accountability through both the legislative and oversight processes.

Beyond the funding increase in the bill, the House Appropriations Committee also included the following report language that has the potential to significantly improve the executive branch’s performance and deliver significant taxpayer savings:

“The Committee is concerned with the potential waste of federal tax dollars due to departments and agencies in the Federal Government not implementing GAO recommendations. The Committee directs that no later than 180 days after enactment of this Act, the Comptroller General shall provide the Committees with a report estimating the financial costs of unimplemented Government Accountability Office recommendations by agency.”

As I explained in National Review Online, this reporting requirement will increase the pressure on federal agencies to implement the Congressional watchdog’s recommendations and may have a big impact:

“...GAO reports that more than 4,800 recommendations remain open, including 460 priority recommendations. If implemented, the GAO says, these reforms “can save large amounts of money, help Congress make decisions on major issues, and substantially improve or transform major government programs or agencies, among other benefits.”

How much potential savings are we talking about? The answer is in the ballpark of tens (if not hundreds) of billions of dollars annually.”

(For background on how GAO’s work yields significant savings and why this kind of reporting requirement is necessary, please take a look at our 2020 report How Congress Can Leverage GAO to Expand Taxpayer Savings.)

Looking Forward

The debate now shifts to the Senate. Many Senators are rightly concerned about the nation’s long-term fiscal challenges. But maintaining the House’s funding levels for legislative branch agencies and reiterating this key reporting requirement would be an important victory for government accountability.

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