New legislation in the House would require the Congressional Research Service to provide a “duplication score” for every piece of legislation, similar to the cost scores that the Congressional Budget Office already gives each bill.
Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced H. Res. 623 in an effort to cut duplicative programs and wasteful spending.
“We don’t have a duplication score,” Lankford said in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp. “If someone brings up a new idea and someone says, ‘Let’s do a new program for green energy related to this,’ everyone might say ‘It’s a great idea,’ until we check it and see we have three programs just like it already. We have no way to really verify a scoring, is this duplicating something that already exists?”
The resolution would allow CRS to engage in the final stages of the legislative process to report on whether the proposed legislation would duplicate a current program.
“Congressmen will rail against duplication in government, but quite frankly, Congress is one of the groups that creates this duplication because it may be politically expedient to say ‘I’m going to pass some bill to create some new program,'” Lankford said. “Well, that program already exists. It just exists in another agency in another form, but it accomplishes the same purpose.”
“I think just about every business in America can go through and say, ‘Here’s the department and here are all the programs in the department. Here’s how much it costs for each one and here’s how we measure its effectiveness,'” Lankford said. “It puts all of that together.”
While Lankford acknowledged that some of this information was already included in the authorizations that Congress passes every year, he said that many agencies are unable to list the programs they operate and how much money is being spent and how much staff is dedicated to them.
“[The bill] is trying to pull all of those things together in a way that can be used by anyone, any outside watchdog group, any section of Congress, OMB, to be able to pull those together and look at it,” Lankford said.
Lankford’s hopes the two pieces of legislation will get at both sides of the duplication problem — one by identifying the duplication that already exists and the other by preventing the duplication from happening again.
“If we have existing programs that are accomplishing a good purpose, let’s feed those,” Lankford said. “Let’s make those better rather than starting up something in a whole different agency that’s now going to compete with it.”
While many agencies don’t currently provide this information, Lankford pointed to the Department of Education as one agency that’s already doing this.
“They can clearly articulate all of their programs — the costs, the metrics, how they evaluate those things — they have those things laid out. Other agencies don’t have it pulled together,” Lankford said. “We’re asking to be able to gather all of those pieces together that they have of that information so that we can lay it side by side so we can look at it.”
Lankford called the Taxpayers Right to Know Act common-sense legislation that should be able to find support on both sides of the aisle. In fact, the bill has already received support from Democrats.
“This is something that a Republican will do when there’s a Democrat is in the White House and this is something a Democrat will do when a Republican’s in the White House,” Lankford said. “This should not be a controversial bill. … It should not be rocket science to be able to look across at another agency and say ‘They already do something similar to this, maybe we should ask them a question about how they do it.'”
It’s easy to understand how agencies, when they’re not communicating about their programs, could create duplicative services, especially when Congress or the president places an emphasis on a particular topic, such as veterans jobs programs.
“Every agency gets busy trying to figure out how they can help the president accomplish that,” Lankford said. “And so help me, five years down the road, we have lots of duplication and we have no coordination. We need to find a way to be able to pull those things together.”
So far, the bill has passed the House Oversight Committee, and he is working to get some floor time for it.
“Obviously, this is the appropriations season coming through and so we’re trying to find a moment to bring it up,” he said. “I hope to bring it up on suspension in the days to come because it should not be a difficult bill to pull through.”
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.