WASHINGTON—Almost as extinct in the nation’s capital as the dinosaurs in the National Museum of Natural History are bipartisan coalitions of legislators and advocacy groups pushing for much-needed landmark reforms in how federal officials spend tax dollars.
But such a coalition has formed behind the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Vision Act of 2020, co-sponsored by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Senate Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is also chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the finance panel’s taxation and IRS oversight subcommittee.
Other sponsors include Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, and David Perdue (R-Ga.), also a member of the budget panel.
An ideologically broad-based coalition of advocacy groups concerned with federal spending abuses has also endorsed the reform package, including the Data Coalition, Citizens Against Government Waste, Project on Government Oversight, the R Street Institute, Truth in Accounting (TIA), and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
“Oftentimes, the federal government cannot show the relationship between dollars spent and results achieved,” Enzi said in a statement announcing the reform package.
“This legislation will lead to better financial and performance data and increase accountability in government programs and operations. This will help improve government-wide financial management and ensure taxpayer dollars are safeguarded.”
Warner said, “This legislation will help boost financial accountability in our government by promoting consistency across agencies, making it easier for them to carry out long-term initiatives and planning, and empowering them to make more informed and strategic policy decisions through the use of performance data.”
Major provisions of the proposal include measures for:
- Standardizing CFO responsibilities across the entire executive branch.
- Providing deputy CFOs new authority to ensure continuity in agency financial management operations in the event of CFO vacancies.
- Revising and updating government-wide and agency-level financial management planning requirements to strengthen the links between spending decisions and performance data.
- Requiring development of financial management performance measuring metrics to gauge progress toward improving government efficiency.
- Strengthening internal controls to require agency managers to identify key financial management information and annually assess progress.
The proposal follows enactment by the 115th Congress of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 that required federal agencies to begin making maximum use of the extensive data they collect annually on the operations of their programs. The hope is that federal officials will rely upon such data to ensure continuation of successful programs and elimination of those that fail.
Congressional staff veterans offered cautiously optimistic assessments of prospects for the financial management reforms.
R Street Institute Vice President Kevin Kosar told The Epoch Times that “proposals to improve the government’s data and technology quality are not easily polarized. … It also is the case that government systems often are glaringly in need of upgrading, and folks within the government are desperate for someone to help them improve things.” Kosar worked for a decade at the Congressional Research Service.
Brian Darling, former counsel to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and now head of Liberty Government Affairs, told The Epoch Times the proposal “is intended to increase accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent and is good legislation that will reform existing law to force more transparency and standardize management of federal programs.”
The bigger challenge Congress must face is the federal government’s $23 trillion national debt and the out-of-control spending by both major parties that produced it, Darling noted.
“With $23 trillion in existing debt and trillion-dollar deficits for years to come, there needs to be a bipartisan effort to reform and cut mandatory programs so the federal government does not go bust in our lifetimes,” Darling said.
Jim Manley, former communications director for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), noted that “as with many other aspects of the legislative process, urgently needed reforms to the budget process are not feasible right now, but at least some reforms might have a decent chance of getting enacted.”
Democratic campaign strategist Spencer Critchley said, “It’s good to see any handshake across the No Man’s Land that has been expanding since Newt Gingrich transformed Congress in the 1990s.”
But ultimately, the Boots Road Group managing partner said, “It’s easy to blame ‘government’ or ‘politicians,’ as if they came from nowhere. But elected officials ultimately do represent our wishes, as in Fenno’s Paradox: Voters hate Congress but keep reelecting their own representatives.”
Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst Justin Bogie told The Epoch Times: “There are no standard metrics used to measure the performance of government programs, and what data is available is often incomplete or inconsistent across agencies and programs. Better data is just the first step, though. Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate agency performance.”
Bill Bergman, TIA’s research director, said the reforms “may mean more work for executive branch agencies, but they owe it to Congress, and to us.”
Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc