I am a proponent of limited government, but if there is one area of government I don’t mind seeing some tax dollars spent, it is the area of government dealing with accountability, auditing and transparency.
Now, we’re all aware of the federal government’s dire need for belt tightening, but it seems as though the Government Accountability Office has been taking a disproportionate share of hits. As you can see, the agency’s budget is shrinking:
But when the GAO went to Congress asking for a relatively small increase in appropriations (which seems fitting given how quickly the government the GAO oversees has grown over the last few years), they met resistance from Democrat Senator Ben Nelson and Republican Senator John Hoeven:
Last year, the Senate subcommittee surprised many when it proposed the deep cuts to GAO’s 2012 funding. The 9 percent cuts were deeper even than those offered by the equally deficit-hawkish House.
La Due Lake said it was the first time he could remember the Senate mark coming in lower than the House’s, which employees found “stunning.”
“We didn’t understand … if it was a process that led to that, just in terms of adding up the numbers, or if there was a specific message,” he said. “It raised a lot of concern.”
The Senate’s proposed funding made it clear to employees the climate of cutbacks would not spare GAO.
“Cuts won’t be easy and agency by agency, there will be resistance,” Nelson was quoted in the Omaha World-Herald in November before 2012 appropriations were finalized. “I intend to put the interests of Nebraska taxpayers ahead of Washington bureaucrats and make cuts where we can.”
But the characterization of Congress’ top watchdogs as mere bureaucrats had some lawmakers, including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), crying foul.
“If the mission of GAO is compromised by excessive cuts, where else can Congress turn to find unbiased data to improve programs and save money?” Coburn wrote in the introduction to a 30-page report, “Shooting the Messenger: Congress Targets the Taxpayers’ Watchdog,” that his office released in response to the 2012 budget proposals.
“Even with a shrinking budget, GAO has continued to produce nearly 1,000 reports a year recommending billions of dollars in savings,” Coburn wrote, contrasting it with a dwindling number of congressional hearings.
At “the very time Congress most needs GAO to help navigate the difficult budgetary choices ahead … Congress is dealing the taxpayers’ watchdog a blow,” he added.
A spokesman for Nelson’s office said GAO’s budget had climbed in recent years, and the Senate proposal represented a decrease over the growth period, or an evening out of funding over the past couple of years. The spokesman also said the proposed budget number reflected bipartisan agreement between Nelson and the subcommittee’s ranking member, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.).
I’ve written about Senator Hoeven’s support for cutting funding for the GAO before. In October Senator Hoeven’s spokesman tried to explain away the cuts by suggesting that they were intended to “even out” previous funding increases for the GAO:
Don Canton, a spokesman for Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said the cuts this year are a way to even out spending over the past couple of years.
He said the last time around that the GAO got a slight increase even as many other legislative accounts were frozen, so the cut in 2012 brings the GAO in line with the two-year average of trims. He said, though, that Mr. Hoeven is open to revisiting the funding.
Looking at the chart above, the idea that this is about evening out spending is kind of silly. Clearly, spending is being reduced.
Our government is in desperate need of spending reductions, but not at the expense of government accountability. Senator Hoeven needs to explain why it is the government’s accountability department deserves to have its budget slashed when there is more government to hold accountable than ever before.