This morning, the House Appropriations Committee’s Legislative Branch Subcommittee marked up its FY 2014 funding bill, agreeing to a plan that would cut funding for Congress and legislative support agencies well below FY 2013 levels, and even beneath sequestration levels for most offices.
Committee leadership claimed that cuts were necessary to “lead by example” and help get the government’s “fiscal house in order,” but, in reality, the cuts will likely limit accountability, access to information, and the ability of Congress and the legislative support agencies to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. The shrinking budgets could also make it more difficult for Congress to implement a number of important transparency initiatives.
The GAO exists to help Congress fulfill one of its most important functions, overseeing and improving the accountability and efficiency of the federal government, and pays for itself many times over through the cost savings that it identifies every year. Unfortunately, Since major budget cuts began three years ago the GAO has lost more than 14% of its staff and seen its ranks fall to the lowest staffing level since 1935. The GAO cannot continue to identify waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government and help to save taxpayers billions of dollars every year if its budget keeps shrinking.
Meanwhile, the House has cut individual office budgets by more than 17% over the past few years, reducing Representatives’ ability to understand and enact complex policy, communicate openly and efficiently with constituents, perform oversight, and do the job of governing that they were elected to do. Unfortunately, Congressional staffs have been shrinking since the late 1970’s. These cuts will most likely accelerate that trend and further diminish Congress’ policy expertise and ability to conduct oversight.
Finally, limited budgets could make it harder for Congress to move forward with important transparency reforms, including opening Congressional Research Service reports and reports from the Executive branch to Congress to the public.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up their Legislative Branch funding bill on Thursday. Hopefully they will push for funding necessary to ensure that Congress and its support agencies can do their jobs effectively.
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