Inappropriate Spending–How Congress spends without authorization

Inappropriate Spending–How Congress spends without authorization–4h.,b12-1

Congress spent $310 billion last year on some 250 agencies and programs that were  no longer—as required under the law and Congress’s own rules—authorized  to receive and spend funds. This problem of “expired authorizations” has grown with the ever-expanding size of government; and it contributes to that expansion by undoing long-established restrictions on spending. There is $22.5 million in grants for bulletproof vests for police and $3 million for implementing  the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act, neither of which has been authorized since 2013.

But more significant are the large. expensive, and consequential agencies that have been operating for years without proper authorization bills. The State Department has been unauthorized since 2004, the Federal Trade Commission since 1999. And then there’s the Federal Elections Commission, which has set a dubious record  by operating without an authorization t since 1982.

An authorization is the first part of a two-step process Congress is supposed to follow in spending taxpayer dollars. Congress authorizes an agency or program, detailing why, how, when, and (a maximum of) how much money is to be spent. When Congress wanted to find research and development in solar air-conditioning, for example, it authorized (in Section 606 of the Energy Independent and  Security Act of 2007) a certain set of activities (such as “Advancing solar thermal collectors”) to be supported in grants totaling no more than a limited amount of  money ($2.5 million per year) for certain years (2008 to 2012).

But as the CBO report shows, Congress regularly shovels money into programs regardless.

The 1974 Congressional Budget Act that’s supposed to govern spending today, Both the Senate and the House have rules to enforce the policy. “An appropriation,” House Rule XXI(2). Each January, the CBO sends Congress a list of agencies and programs the authorizations of which have expired or are soon to expire.

Alas, Congress these days often skips the authorization process, and in so doing undermines its own oversight power. Since 2006, annual unauthorized appropriations have nearly doubled and the number of programs operating under expired authorizations has increased more than 45 percent. Another two dozen authorizations are set to expire this year, which will add billions of dollars more to the sum of unauthorized funds. Congress has come up with various ways to dodge its own two-step process. Most commonly, each chamber simply votes to waive its rules against appropriating funds for unauthorized purposes. That leaves legislators free to say “yea” to massive spending bills that allow zombie programs and failed agencies to live on.

Every year, new programs are created, adding more and more reauthorizations to Congress’s to-do list. There is not enough time to examine every expiring program before appropriating funds.

Prior leadership, skipping I reauthorization averts costly legislative fights. Which means, of course, that not only is unauthorized spending a function of big government, it in turn contributes to bigger government by making it easier to spend money.

It’s s been more than 20 years since Congress managed to enact all 12 of its annual spending bills on time. Instead, lawmakers have increasingly relied on shortcuts—continuing resolutions or enormous omnibus spending bills—passed in the dark of night, usually at the last moment before a looming government shutdown. This has become the new normal, and we all are the poorer for it.

source-weekly standard (3/7/2016), kenin kosar, cbo,


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