Administration wants fast track to eliminate agencies, programs

The White House is pushing a bill that would make it easier to kill federal programs, or even the agencies that conduct them, if they aren’t cost-effective or duplicate other government or nongovernment entities. The initiative, which bears the cumbersome title the Government Reorganization and Program Performance Improvement Act, would create two commissions empowered to recommend federal bureaucracy reforms.

The White House is pushing a bill that would make it easier to kill federal programs, or even the agencies that conduct them, if they aren’t cost-effective or duplicate other government or nongovernment entities.

The initiative, which bears the cumbersome title the Government Reorganization and Program Performance Improvement Act, would create two commissions empowered to recommend federal bureaucracy reforms.

While fiscal conservatives have long dreamed of limiting the size of the federal government, they’ve met with little success, and in recent years Republicans have seemed to focus more on social-policy reforms.

Under the White House plan, changes proposed by the dual commissions would be sent to Congress, which would be limited by a fast-track authority akin to its present powers over trade deals.

Lawmakers could not amend the recommended changes, only approve them or reject them outright.

Critics fear the proposed legislation would make it too easy to minimize governmental oversight powers.

“These are really very important decisions about the function of government programs that serve people. They deserve a full and fair time for debate,” said Robert Shull, director of regulatory policy at OMB Watch, a watchdog group that often defends government regulations.

But Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) says the president’s bill is a necessary tool to “abolish obsolete agencies and to eliminate duplication among programs.”
Without it, Congress won’t be able to balance the budget, he said.

Brady, who proposed a similar bill last year that passed the House but was not taken up by the Senate, plans to introduce the legislation with Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. The two plan to hold a press conference later this week on the bill.

The president’s bill would establish results and sunset commissions. Members of both panels would be picked by the president in consultation with congressional leaders.

With Congress’s approval, several results commissions could be created to study specific agencies and programs for the “purpose of improving the overall effectiveness, efficiency or accountability of the executive branch,” according to the bill.

Sunset commissions would review entire agencies at least once every 10 years. Any recommendation the commission makes would go into effect unless Congress specifically says it shouldn’t within two years of the recommendation.   

Among the factors the sunset commission should weigh are:

•Whether the agency is “cost effective.”

•The extent to which the agency’s responsibilities “duplicate or conflict with other federal agencies, state and local government or the private sector.”

•The extent to which the agency “coordinates effectively with state and local government performing the same function.”

OMB Watch’s Shull said the commissions set up by the bill could be stacked with lobbyists looking to minimize oversight of the industries they represent. 

“If the bureaucracy is truly unwieldy, if there are programs that need to expire, make a presentation and focus on the program and suggest to Congress that they be realigned or deleted,” he said.

But while Congress now has power to reform the federal government as it wants, as evidenced by the recent creation of the Department of Homeland Security, deleting unnecessary federal programs has proved almost  politically impossible.

Lawmakers could cut programs, but “they don’t,” said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a spending watchdog group co-founded by J. Peter Grace, who chaired the commission bearing his name that tried to find a way to streamline the government during the Reagan administration.

While President Reagan talked about pulling the plug on several agencies, “you don’t hear much about that anymore,” Schatz said.  “Members of Congress like to spend money,” he said.