Brookings to Start New Series on the Budget Process

Note: This blog has been updated to talk about the first blog post in the series.

For those in the budget world, today is not just the day after the Super Bowl, it's also Budget Day...sort of. The 1974 Budget Act technically requires the President's budget to be submitted on the first Monday in February, but with the delay in resolving appropriations, the budget will be delayed this year until next month.

While we won't get a budget today, the Brookings Institution's FixGov blog is launching a new series called "Reforming the Budget," which will look at ways to reform the budget process to make it function more smoothly. In the introductory post, Brookings fellow Elaine Kamarck notes that although there is criticism of the President's budget being late from Members of Congress, the frequent and increasing tardiness of legislators in passing appropriations bills has also plagued the budget process. As you can see below, lawmakers haven't passed an appropriations bill at the start of the fiscal year since 2007.

With lawmakers rushing to prevent government shutdowns, they have less time to examine programs and set priorities. The Brookings series started with Brookings fellow Phillip Wallach talking about why identifying waste, fraud, and abuse is not as easy as it seems. He takes Sen. Tom Coburn's Wastebook report and notes that a significant chunk of the $30 billion in savings is not actually "wasteful" in the sense that it is spending on an obscure or ridiculous-sounding priority. In one example, about the destruction of weapons used in Afghanistan, Wallach points out that the alternatives to preserve weapons are probably less cost-efficient. He also notes that the largest example, improper payments with the Earned Income Tax Credit, is well-known, is being worked on, and probably isn't what we traditionally think of as waste.

He also notes that simply looking to cut spending may not be the best way to reduce waste; sometimes, the federal government has to spend money to make money. For example, increasing the IRS's budget is scored as reducing the deficit, since the extra resources bring in previously uncollected revenue. This concept can be applied to some other programs that would signficantly benefit from program integrity spending (he mentions disability insurance as an example).

Wallach's post is the first in the series, and it will be interesting to see what will come out of this series going forward.

Click here to see the full series.