The thousands of words our experts contributed in their columns touched on a number of subjects, but the most used words and phrases helped to form the word cloud below, with “budget,” “spending,” “federal” and “Congress” being the most prominent.
While this image identifies the most-used words, it doesn’t capture the phrases that sum up the ideas these experts professed for solving the failing budget process.
Below you’ll find a summary of the different ideas the experts suggested, as well as select quotes from AGA members.
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David Walker, former comptroller general, and founder and CEO of Comeback America Initiative proposed establishing a biennial budgeting and appropriations process.
“This won’t guarantee timely action but it will free up time for the Congress to focus more attention on the oversight and authorization processes,” he said.
Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) introduced a biennial budgeting bill, which recently passed the House Budget Committee. He agreed with Walker that a biennial budgeting system would create greater oversight.
“Instead of forcing agencies to spend all of their time bureaucratically researching, planning, and submitting budget plans for the upcoming fiscal year, biennial budgeting creates set times for departments to submit their budget plans, and dedicates the rest of the time to actually governing,” he said. “And instead of encouraging agencies to use funds wastefully at the end of the year simply so they don’t risk having a smaller budget the next year, agencies would have a longer time window to make effective, necessary spending decisions.”
In addition to biennial budgeting, Bryan Clark, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, suggested the government commit to stable funding for capital investments.
“Today, investment appropriations such as infrastructure construction or aircraft production can be spent over several years, since the government (like someone building a house) wants the leverage of future payments to use with the contractor,” he said. “This works well if the project is completely funded in one year’s budget. Big projects from ships to spacecraft, however, require funds from several consecutive budgets because they are expensive relative to the size of the sponsoring agency’s annual budget. This makes the schedule and cost of the program very dependent on annual appropriations being completed on time and the amount being close to what was planned.”
Diana Urban, a State of Connecticut Representative, floated the idea of Results-Based Accountability, in which a “quality-of-life result” is identified and guidelines are set to achieve that result.
“It is a two-step process that is based on simple language that can be understood by the average ‘joe’ on the street,” she said. “However, it does offer a structure that allows for a meaningful discussion on the ends we are trying to achieve and if we are getting close to achieving those ends.”
Dan Chenok, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government, said opportunities exist for government to save costs by improving how agencies manage technology, processes and data.
“Increasingly, agencies are using analytics to predict and prevent problems that drain time and resources, such as identifying improper payments in advance rather than stopping them after the fact,” he said. “Applying analytics to administrative data sets can also help to determine the cost-effectiveness of alternative interventions.”
Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition, said the government should adhere to pay-as-you-go rules for the expansion of entitlements and tax cuts. He also proposed setting long-term approach to revenue targets.
“Long-term targets for revenues and outlays by major spending category should be established as part of the annual budget resolution,” he said. “Congress should note how major legislative proposals that are assumed in the resolution would affect these targets — and how the targets differ, if at all, from current-law projections by the Congressional Budget Office.”
David Wessel, director of The Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy, Brookings Institution, said that the root of the problem isn’t the budget process itself, it’s that the American public wants more services from the government than it’s willing to pay for through taxes.
“The challenge is to rethink the budget process and the presentation of the budget so that it is more likely to produce a durable consensus among a significant number of Democrats and Republicans and promote better public understanding of the fiscal choices the nation faces,” he said.
One of Wessel’s suggestions is for presidential candidates to build their campaign budgets around a common baseline, such as the Congressional Budget Office’s 10- year projection of current budget policies.
“This would give candidates an incentive to avoid outlandish promises and might just help the public understand that whatever the right target for deficits and debt, cutting foreign aid — roughly 1 percent of all federal spending — isn’t going to get us there,” he said.