A bipartisan bill that will save billions
The 117th Congress may be remembered as a time of intense polarization. But the leaders of a bipartisan House committee have been operating below the national political radar to improve how Congress works. Their latest effort has the potential to deliver substantial taxpayer savings.
Formed in 2019, the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress’s mandate is “to make Congress more effective, efficient, and transparent for the American people.” The panel operates on a bipartisan basis and shows what can happen when lawmakers focus on solving problems recognized by both sides of the aisle. To date, the committee has passed 142 recommendations of which 89 have been fully or partially implemented.
Many of the committee’s recommendations have focused on reforming Congress as an institution. But the committee’s latest effort involves reforming how Congress uses its nonpartisan watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), to make the federal government work better.
On Thursday, Chairman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Vice Chair William Timmons (R-S.C.) introduced the Improving Government for America’s Taxpayers Act, along with ten bipartisan co-sponsors.
The legislation would require GAO to annually provide Congress with information about how much the government could save if federal agencies acted upon the watchdog agency’s priority recommendations. The bill would require an annual report detailing its open priority recommendations, how long they have been open, and what Congress can do to require agencies to implement them.
While this might sound like a paperwork exercise, the new reporting requirement would provide Congress with a blueprint for achieving substantial taxpayer savings through legislation, appropriations, and oversight.
Since 2000, GAO’s work has resulted in more than $1 trillion in financial benefits for the federal government. For example, last year the Congressional watchdog agency reported that its work saved $1.4 billion for the Internal Revenue Service by preventing invalid tax refunds, $2.8 billion by reforming a Medicare payment process, and $2.8 billion in potential spending on a Navy submarine project that Congress withdrew.
But Congress and agencies often take four years or longer to answer GAO’s recommendations.
As of the end of March, GAO reported that there were more than 4,600 open recommendations to make the federal government work better. This included 444 “priority recommendations” which GAO describes as deserving special attention “because their implementation could save large amounts of money.”
How much could be saved if these priority recommendations were closed?
The answer is likely tens (if not hundreds) of billions of dollars. More than 200 of GAO’s recommendations between 2002 and 2019 resulted in more than $1 billion of savings.
Some might question whether a congressionally-mandated GAO reporting requirement like the Kilmer-Timmons bill proposes could really have a significant impact. But it has already happened.
In 2010, Congress passed legislation requiring GAO to annually report to Congress about duplication and waste across federal programs. Last year, GAO estimated that its eleven annual reports on duplication have resulted in more than $500 billion in savings. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro has described the 2010 legislative mandate as “the gift that keeps on giving.”
Today, the Improving Government for America’s Taxpayers Act has the potential to achieve similar savings over time.
“This bill is about making government work better and saving taxpayers’ money. The Government Accountability Office works tirelessly to identify areas to improve efficiency and save money…But that will only happen if Congress acts on those recommendations,” Kilmer reasoned.
“Rep. Kilmer and I are excited to show the importance of non-partisan, good government legislation. It is still possible,” Rep. Timmons added.
Through their leadership of the Modernization Committee, Kilmer and Timmons have already proven that lawmakers can work together to make Congress stronger. If passed, their new bipartisan legislation will be a historic win for good government and American taxpayers.
Dan Lips is Head of Policy at Lincoln Network.