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Are Taxpayers Getting Their Money’s Worth?

March 5, 2013

The federal government has grown too big, too unaccountable, and too wasteful. The American people, the President, and independent evaluators have all put forward programs for termination, yet many of these programs continue on, with little action from Congress. The federal government will spend $31,000 per household this year, among the highest in American history, and $5,000 more than in 2008. The question has to be asked: are we getting our money’s worth?     

End Bad Programs

From 2002 to 2007 government auditors examined 98 percent of all federal programs and found that 22 percent of them -- costing taxpayers of $123 billion annually -- failed to show any positive impact. These programs need to be scaled back, reformed so they work, or ended.

program ratings

Instead of continuing to evaluate the performance of programs, the Obama Administration ended that management initiative.

Weak Performance Plan

In 2009, President Obama’s OMB Director Peter Orszag acknowledged the existence of bad programs saying, “some programs have persisted year after year without adequate evidence they work.” The Administration’s solution, however, was not to create a rigorous independent performance measurement program, but essentially to allow agencies to monitor their own programs and set their own goals.

OMB first put forward a voluntary initiative that provided funding for agencies that wanted to improve evaluations of their programs. This initiative did not accept efforts to improve procurement, construction, taxation, and defense – among the biggest federal expenditures. The IBM Center for Business of Government called the Obama Administration approach “less systematic,” and said it didn’t seem to be, “attempting to achieve comprehensiveness.”

The new OMB plan was to “switch the focus from grading programs as successful or unsuccessful to requiring agency leaders to set priority goals.” Essentially, the Obama Administration is leaving the majority of programs unaccountable while telling taxpayers to pay more for them. This allowed the Administration to go after “high-priority” goals while the rest of the government suffered.

Beginning in 2011, performance is reviewed through a “quarterly priority progress review,” in which agencies meet to discuss their progress toward their goals. With this process, the Executive branch is unable to measure the efficiency or effectiveness of programs across the federal government. And the priorities that it focuses on are not measured in any unified, quantifiable way – agencies write their own definition of success.

Without an Administration willing to take responsibility and spend taxpayer dollars wisely, Congress must rely on GAO and other outside analysts -- and it must exercise oversight.

Make Oversight Matter

Congress has to end the permanency of government programs. As authorizations for programs expire, Congress must scrutinize them for reauthorization; and then vote to continue, reform, or end them. This oversight should lead to reforms in both efficiency and effectiveness. Taxpayers need to have confidence that their tax dollars are being spent wisely. Programs that fail this test should not receive any more funding. This is work the Democrat Senate has put off for too long. 

Oversight hearings with Cabinet heads have become rare, and committee-written bills brought to the floor under regular order have been replaced with bills brought directly by the Majority Leader under Rule XIV. It is time for the Senate to return to regular order, end the abuse of Rule XIV, and do its job as a watchdog over taxpayer dollars.