Sunday, September 27, 2009

Just How Many Federal Programs Are There Anyway?

In our never-ending quest to bring facts and truth to you, the American taxpayer, so you can make decisions about running for office yourself or who to vote for to represent you in Washington, we thought we would try to find out just how many federal programs there actually are.

No one knows.

No one knows for sure how many federal programs we now have in existence in the US federal government budget. No one at CBO, OMB, GAO, on the Congressional Budget Committees or in the US Senate.

Are you kidding me?

Can you believe that? Here we are in the 21st century with computers that can spit out trillions of complex calculations in a nanosecond and we have no one in the US federal government who can tell the average citizen how many federal programs we are paying for?

We tried and tried and tried over the past week or so to get answers from these various sources in Washington and no one even ventured a guess at how many programs are now in existence. Our feeble guess of “10,000” was met with varying degrees of “Sounds about right!” or “Who knows? It could be 10,000 times 10,000!”

And we wonder why we can’t seem to get a handle on federal spending?

Our thought was to find such a list and rank them from 1 to 10,000 in order of magnitude based on current fiscal year outlays, meaning ‘real cash spent”. (There is also an “authorization’ amount passed each year by each congressional committee that says a certain amount ‘can be spent’ but it is the appropriations committees that determines the final amounts actually spent for each agency)

There are also the problematic ‘entitlement’ programs that seemingly run-on-their-own each year. In truth, these mammoth programs are subject to changes that can be made by the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees, mostly, during ‘budget reconciliation’ bills that you might start hearing a lot about with this health care bill moving along.

And when you hear the words “budget reconciliation’, ladies and gentlemen, hold onto your hats and wallets because that is where massive mischief can be inserted and moved through Congress virtually undetected until the entire bill is signed into law by the President.

But once we got that list of federal programs ready, we were going to send them out to you and the general public and ask each of you to check off the ones that just don’t seem to be necessary anymore, have out-lived their usefulness or don’t deal with anything in the broader national interest.

It has been accomplished before. My favorite “What in the world are we still doing that for?” program was the Federal Helium Reserve that was started in 1925! to provide helium for dirigibles and airships more commonly known as blimps. Just after World War I, mind you.

In 1996, amendments were finally passed to phase the program out and turn it over to private investors and operations. We guess the need for using blimps for surveillance operations had expired after only a mere 71 years of deliberations in Congress.

There are thousands of programs costing billions of dollars in total per year that need to be eliminated, reduced or phased-out. Doing so would first reduce the explosive annual deficits; reduce the need to put our children further in debt and hock and third, ultimately lead to less demand to raise taxes to cover all this wasteful spending in the first place.

If you want to be a true “tax-cutter’, you have got to be a true fiscal spending conservative in the first place. Lower spending needs begets lower taxation needs. Remember that the next time you hear anyone call for lower taxes.

One modern American common-sense budget tool that would work is to force Congress to institute ‘zero-based budgeting’. Each year, every federal program would have to justify its very existence to Congress. If the results were not there or there was more waste than progress, the program would be ‘zeroed-out’ or ended for the next fiscal year.

Our contention has always been that perhaps close to 25% of the U.S. federal budget of $2.6 trillion could be eliminated through such a mature, rational examination of each and every federal program. Take a look for yourself at CBO1 and CBO2.

Even though no one seems to any earthly idea about how many programs are out there in the first place.

That is reason enough to start zero-based budgeting tomorrow morning at 6:00 am sharp, we contend.

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