Appropriators warn legislative agencies of further funding cuts

Members of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on The Legislative Branch are warning congressional agencies that the current atmosphere of economic austerity will likely not abate any time soon.

On Thursday, the subcommittee heard testimony from the heads of the Government Printing Office, the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office on their funding requests for fiscal year 2013.

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Though each agency’s request was modest, subcommittee members said further cuts will likely need to be made.

“The number that we’re going to have to make work for the [legislative] branch is not a number the chairman and I will decide; certainly we’ll have input,” said ranking member John Hoeven (R-N.D.). “We’ll have a number that we’re going to have to make work.

“And it’s my sense that, for the [legislative] branch, that number that came to us in the [Obama] administration’s budget, with an increase of 5.4 percent — we’re going to have to make things work at less than that.” 

While Hoeven praised the agency heads for their hard work and valuable service, he warned that the subcommittee would need to comb their budgets to identify further cost savings.

“We’re still going to have to go through [the requested budgets] and continue to evaluate and both prioritize the best we can and then find more savings, recognizing that that’s just where we are in terms of our financial situation,” he said.

“It’s incumbent on all of us to figure out how we reduce the deficit and the debt, and get our financial situation in order.”

The stringent financial warning was not new for the agency heads, who heard a similar message from members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on The Legislative Branch in early February.

During the Feb. 7 FY13 budget hearing, subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) warned that the level of available federal funds has, and will continue to remain, low, as the House anticipates a $3.5 billion FY13 legislative branch request.

During Thursday’s hearing, the agencies addressed issues with continually making due with less.

The Government Accountability Office’s comptroller general, Gene Dodaro, testified that ongoing funding constraints had driven the agency to staffing levels that were too low.

“Our staffing level is now at the lowest levels since 1935,” he said, noting that the agency now has fewer than 3,000 employees and is anticipating the retirement of many baby-boomer staff in the next few years.

As such, the GAO was requesting $526 million in FY13, a $15 million increase over what it was allotted in FY12, to increase staff size.

“My request is to build a workforce for the future,” Dodaro added, claiming that an increase of several hundred employees would make the GAO “right-sized.”

Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, also testified that his agency was currently understaffed, as employees left and were not always replaced.

Elmendorf said the demand for CBO’s services had been “extremely high” in recent years, as the agency simultaneously curtailed salary increases and limited information technology spending to help cut costs.

But further staff cuts would “have a negative impact on the analysis we can provide to the Congress,” he warned.

To that end, the CBO was requesting a budget increase of 1.9 percent over FY12, for a total of $44.6 million.

Subcommittee members were quick to praise the Government Printing Office for its FY13 budget request, which proposed keeping funding at FY12 levels of $126.25 million.

Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks said recent employee buyouts helped reduce the GPO’s workforce by 15 percent, bringing it to their lowest staffing level in the last century.