The Trump Administration released a proposed budget for 2018 that makes recommendations for how Washington should spend the nation’s money. The big themes are reducing, eliminating, and innovating.
One area for elimination is unauthorized spending – billions of dollars being spent by federal agencies that have no authorization by Congress. Think of unauthorized funds as an employee who continues to uses a company credit card on recurring expenses without the boss’s approval just because the boss approved the spending once or for a limited time in the past. It’s likely that Congress provided for the programs to be funded for a specific period. Annually or periodically, the funding should be reauthorized, which offers a chance to ensure that money is being spent well.
The President’s latest budget makes it clear that part of the lean and efficient government effort is turning over every stone to find waste and misuse of taxpayer dollars. According to Mick Mulvaney:
“If they’re not important enough for Congress to take up, are they really important for me to spend your money on? That’s a valid conversation and driving a large part of what we’re trying to do with the budget.”
A perusal of the budget finds almost a dozen programs with unauthorized spending that could be on the chopping block if Congress accepts the President’s recommendations.
Here are the top 10 up for elimination that will saving hundreds of millions of dollars each:
- COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANT (Department of Health and Human Services) | Savings: $2.99 Billion – CDBG provides funds to 1,250 state and local grantees for community and economic development activities including housing rehabilitation, blight removal, infrastructure and public improvements, and public services. Created in 1974, the program has been unchanged since it was last reauthorized in 1994, yet has not demonstrated results.
- COMMUNITY SERVICES BLOCK GRANT (HUD) Savings: $714 Million – CSBG funds approximately 1,000 nonprofit organizations, local governments, tribal organizations, and migrant and seasonal farm worker organizations. However, these grants aren’t tied to performance, some services are duplicative of services funded through other federal programs like food stamps, and it is unauthorized.
- NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENTS (Department of Transportation) | Savings: $499 million – This grant program was part of the 2009 stimulus bill to spend federal dollars on local projects with no regional or national importance, but overlaps with other spending programs that do. This grant program has not been authorized by Congress for the last two years.
- NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION GRANTS AND EDUCATION (Department of Commerce) | Savings: $262 Million – NOAA grant and education programs are low priority and in many cases unauthorized. Eliminating them will allow NOAA to better target funds to projects or programs with the greatest need or potential benefit.
- ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ADMINISTRATION (Department of Commerce) | Savings: $221 Million – Congress has not authorized EDA's development assistance grants since the authority expired in 2008. Yet, according to a 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, each of the 80 economic development programs at the four departments it reviewed overlapped with at least one of the other programs.
- STATE CRIMINAL ALIEN ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (Department of Justice) | Savings: $210 Million – SCAAP reimburses state, local, and tribal governments for prior year costs associated with incarcerating certain illegal criminal aliens. It is unauthorized, poorly targeted, and lacks performance metrics or requirements. The Administration would instead invest in border enforcement and border security initiatives.
- COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS FUND (Department of the Treasury) | Savings: $210 Million – Created in 1994, but currently unauthorized, the CDFI Fund provides grants, loans, and tax credits to a national network of financial institutions with goals of bringing capital and credit to low-income and underserved people and communities. That goal has been achieved so this budget proposes eliminating new grants.
- Choice Neighborhoods (HUD) | Savings: $125 Million – Choice Neighborhoods provide grants for neighborhood revitalization projects especially with distressed public and/or assisted housing. Aside from being unauthorized, the Administration thinks state and local governments may be better positioned to fund these local projects.
- INDIAN COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANT (HUD) | Savings: $60 Million – ICDBG provides grants for construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing, community facilities, and infrastructure among other projects. The grant program is unauthorized and duplicates other HUD programs.
- SELF-HELP AND ASSISTED HOMEOWNERSHIP OPPORTUNITY PROGRAM ACCOUNT (HUD) | Savings: $56 Million – This small grant program is duplicative or overlaps with other federal, state, and local efforts.
These 10 programs total about $5.3 billion in savings. This just scratches the surface though of unauthorized spending. Last year, the Congressional Budget Office calculated $310 billion in federal funding being spent despite their original Congressional authorizations having expired.
We’ll see if Congress takes up some of these recommendations. At minimum, Congress should root out the duplication and waste in Washington and take real measures toward financial restraint and good stewardship.