Congress works to turn watchdog into lapdog

Has somebody dumped gallons of hallucinogens into the drinking water on Capitol Hill? How else can we explain why Congress is slashing the operational budget of its most effective weapon against wasteful federal spending? That weapon, of course, is the Government Accountability Office, the green-eyeshade agency that for decades has been the bane of every wasteful bureaucrat in Washington.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is also mystified, pointing out in a report this week, “Just this year, GAO identified hundreds of billions of dollars of duplicative and overlapping programs that, if addressed by Congress, could both save money and improve services for taxpayers. For every $1 spent on GAO, the agency provides $90 in savings recommendations. Yet, instead of adopting these good government reforms, the Senate Appropriations Committee has responded by proposing dramatic budget cuts to the GAO budget.”

Did you catch that ratio of potential savings identified by the GAO to the cost of running the GAO? If every government agency could provide $90 in real economic value for every $1 in operational costs, this nation would have a $15 trillion surplus rather than a $15 trillion national debt. What’s even more shocking is that the cuts are not being proposed just by the Democrat-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee, and they’re not a one-time thing.

As Coburn points out in his report, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee has proposed a 6.4 percent reduction, only a little less than the 7.6 percent sought by the Senate panel. And the effort to cut the GAO has been going on for two decades: The GAO’s workforce has been reduced by 40 percent — or more than 2,000 positions — since 1992, and during the same period, the agency’s budget has been reduced 13 percent (in inflation-adjusted dollars). So Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been colluding for decades in this obvious effort to reduce Washington’s best watchdog to a congressional lapdog.

And what else — besides spending America deeper into debt than it has ever before been — has Congress been doing during this period? Well, it’s been fattening its staff even as it does less and less work. The Coburn report includes these revealing facts:

  • Between 2000 and 2010, Congress increased its own budget from a combined $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion, rising nearly twice as fast as inflation.
  • During the same period, House staff grew by 9 percent and Senate staff increased by 24 percent.
  • Over the last 30 years, the number of congressional oversight hearings held each session decreased by about one-quarter from 4,000 to less than 3,000.
  • The Senate spent more than200 hours in “quorum calls” — a parliamentary “timeout” — during 2009, and more than one-third of its time in 2011.
  • Ninety-six percent of all legislation passed without a roll-call vote in the 111th Congress — the highest percentage of any session in the last 15 years.

And then these people wonder why their public approval rating as an institution has sunk to 13 percent? Does anyone now doubt that a congressional term-limit constitutional amendment would be adopted by more than three quarters of the states in record time?

editorialsGAOOpinionSen. Tom Coburn

Just Posted

Epic Cleantec uses soil mixed with treated wastewater solids to plants at the company’s demonstration garden in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Epic Cleantec)
This startup watches what SF flushes – and grows food with it

Epic Cleantec saves millions of gallons of water a year, and helps companies adhere to drought regulations

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler congratulates San Francisco Giants first baseman Darin Ruf (33) in the dug out after hitting a home-run in the 5th inning against the Washington Nationals at Oracle Park on July 9, 2021. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
How Gabe Kapler sets the tone for Giants success with strategy, mindset

‘There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the hands-down manager of the year’

The Kimpton Buchanan Hotel in Japantown could become permanent supportive housing if The City can overcome neighborhood pushback. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
San Francisco leaders must reject NIMBY discrimination against homeless housing

By San Francisco Examiner Editorial Board “We support supportive housing. But just… Continue reading

The 49ers, opening with a win against the Lions in week one, play the Eagles. (Courtesy 49ers)
NFL Week 2 predictions: Our picks against the spread

By Emmanuel Morgan New York Times Last-second field goals. Teams flooding the… Continue reading

“Ticket to Ride,” on view at RVCA’s Haight-Ashbury store, is made up of artistic renderings of Muni tickets. (Courtesy Optimist Williams)
Celebrating pre-tech SF through Muni transfer tickets

‘Ticket to Ride’ exhibit presents public transit as art and equalizer

Most Read