Issa: Government needs long term budget planning

Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), chair, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

wfedstaff | June 3, 2015 10:06 pm

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

At a hearing Wednesday on federal pay, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said President Barack Obama’s two-year pay freeze is a “farce.”

This morning, on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris, the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee explained.

“When you look at the President claiming there’s a freeze and there isn’t a freeze, then I think we have to be genuine with the American people. Some people in government get step increases. Some don’t. So we have a situation in which some people are getting a three or more percent increase this year while others are getting nothing. That’s not good management.”

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At the hearing, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said freezing step increases would give agencies a retention problem.

Issa told Federal News Radio if “that’s the debate, the President shouldn’t have said it differently in the State of the Union. He should have said, ‘I believe we need to have this $500 million dollars retained worth of pay increases.’ And he didn’t. So a lot of this is above the federal worker. It’s about the President coming to grips with the fact that there’s only so much money and maybe these step increases are needed, but in order to get them, we may have to find $500 million in savings in other areas that would offset it. That’s the discussion we should be having with the administration and with the Office of Personnel Management, and I hope to continue that dialogue.”

Budget

Throughout the discussion, Issa advocated taking a larger view of how the issues fit within the budget and the deficit. A familiar analogy is the man walking uphill with a yo-yo. The budget yo-yo may be going up and down, but the man, like the deficit, gets higher and higher.

Budget planning should be, said Issa, “the way the Department of Defense does it: quadrennial.”

You should be looking at four, five, six years of budget expectations. Then having one year of appropriations, but a reasonable reliability that you begin a program where you look and say, “Well, I’m going to spend so much this year. I have an expectation that I will be getting follow on money next year,” because otherwise what you do is you only think in terms of what I have right now, I’ll spend it, and it means you don’t do projects in a methodical way. If you’re updating your computers, you don’t want to update them all in one year. You probably stagger the servers and the other equipment over time.

The same thing with training. Training is one of the things that, when you’re operating on CRs, managers have the least ability to make those investments in the rank-and-file level and their own training including sending people places for advanced training…

Obviously we’re going to do a CR for the rest of the year, but we have to produce a budget this year. We have to do it hard. We have to make some tough choices so that managers know what they will or won’t work with and we have to give them an expectation what they’re going to have the year following and the year following. Because we’ve got over a trillion dollars in savings that has to be found. We can’t find it without managers working hand in hand with us throughout government.

Continuing Resolution

Issa said Congress can’t renew continuing resolutions every two weeks while savings are found and Congress comes to an agreement.

“No we can’t, Amy. First of all they’re wasteful because agencies actually spend more money to get less results when they’re on these very short term bases. The other thing is a CR as a stopgap usually has some changes where we eliminate certain things which frees up money. When we’re doing these stopgaps of two weeks, essentially we’re just handing a pile of money and hoping that it’s spent roughly the way it would be the two weeks before.”

“The amazing thing is,” continued Issa, “we didn’t do a budget last year. Congress punted on doing an actual budget for the first time since 1974, so what these are are spending without a budget. And it’s one of the reasons that I think it’s very hard for the House and Senate and for the Republicans and Democrats to get together is the template. The basic ‘the president proposes, we go through the process, we work it out and then we say this is how it’s going to be spent’ never happened. So ever since we ran out a year ago September, we’ve basically been in a continuing resolution all along and that’s the worst way to run a government.”

Redundancy in Government

Not that redundancy in federal programs is any better. Last week, Issa hammered the Office of Management and Budget after it declined an invitation to testify about the administration’s plans to reduce redundancies.

As for efforts to do that so far, it may be a bit of an understatement to say Issa isn’t impressed.

“Well, this administration has been there for two years, its predecessor for eight, and basically we hear about these things, but they don’t come to pass. One of the challenges is to create statutory imperatives. In other words, to say ‘no you cannot build a new X. You cannot stand up a new study group on, let’s say, public education.’ You have 82 federal programs monitoring teacher quality. Ask yourself, on what basis would you need 82 separate programs except to create 82 different, happy cabinet positions and sub-cabinet positions and so on. You’ve got to have legislative imperative, in some cases, in addition to executive leadership. And we think there’s a beginning of executive leadership, but it’s not in the President’s budget. Virtually none of what is in the GAO report actually is dealt with in the budget and this is halfway through a presidency.”

Issa said, “It’s not easy, but the American people have a reasonable expectation that we’re not going to waste their money and this report shows we’re wasting over $100 billion. Are we going to implement them all overnight? Of course not. We don’t want chaos. We don’t want our services to drop during the transition, but if we just did 25 percent of them each year over the next four years, we could spend a few billion a year and save $25 or $30 billion in each of those years.”

Issa said he has some immediate action in mind.

One of the things we’re going to do in the House is produce a document that prohibits anything which is redundant from expanding unless it’s part of a consolidation and we’re going to stop, for example, those 82 federal programs monitoring teacher quality. I’ve said that before but I say it again because I don’t want to see that there’s 83. So part of what we’re going to do is systematically make sure that we stop digging the hole deeper and, at the same time, look at the funding of these and encourage it.

The other thing that we’re working on, on the Government Oversight Committee, is producing a revolving fund…agencies could borrow from to do consolidations and then repay from the savings. Because, you know, in the private sector the first things people say is ‘how am I going to pay for the eventual savings?’ In government, in a time we’re cutting budgets, we have to make sure that we have a mechanism where the money is freely available if, in fact, it pays for itself in five years or less.

So, for example, funds would be made available for data center consolidations. “Just in the greater D.C. – northern Virginia area,” said Issa. “These consolidations would cost money but they would save immediately. But in most cases if you have 10 data centers, you want to put them into one, you’re going to have to expand the facility or go to an all new facility. And that kind of funding, to take 10 and move it into one over a several year period, gets the savings fairly quickly, but is an out of pocket expense on day one.”

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