A new study of President Carter's highly touted zero-base budgeting effort concludes the program is limited as a budget-making tool, and should be cut back sharply rather than expanded as Carter is proposing.
The study, published by the Association of Government Accountants, says that while ZBB showed some merit as a budget makers' aid, it did little more than create new paperwork when applied to the so-called "uncontrollable" programs whose spending is preset by law.
As a result, the report recommended the ZBB effort be pared in the coming fiscal year to cover only those programs where the administration has discretion to alter spending levels - only about 20 percent of the total federal budget.
The report also tended to confirm previous findings by critics that the ZBB program has not lived up to Carter's campaign promises to cut spending and revolutionize the federal budget process.
It noted that the budget Carter proposed last January - the first in which he used the new ZBB procedures - "was not a wholesale departure from the budgets of prior years."
The 123-page document. prepared by Frank D. Draper and Bernard T. Pitsvada, both top budget officers in federal agencies, marked the first major outside review of ZBB since the program was put into effect early in 1977.
The conclusions differed sharply with the administration's own recommendations for the program. Carter has dubbed the ZBB prgram fully successful, and had announced plans to expand it in the coming fiscal year.
The study essentially underscored problems in the ZBB procedure pointed out 2 1/2 years ago by George S. Minmier, a Memphis State University accounting professor, who made the first major review of the ZBB program Carter instituted in Georgia.
Carter brought ZBB to Washington, promising it would help cut spending and enable the federal government to "reorder its priorities." So far, however, while the program has produced some modest benefits, it has not resulted in any savings.
The accountant's association study also confirmed that ZBB failed to achieve one major goal Carter had set for it - to force federal agencies to justify every dollar in their budgets each year rather than just the additional money they request.
Rather, it said, while the program has been useful in some cases, it basically has proved to be only a refinement of existing procedures. The study also said the new procedures generate reams of new paperwork.
The failure of the ZBB procedure to cut into so-called "uncontrollable" expenditures stems from the fact that these spending levels are preset by Congress and cannont be altered with out now legislation. Historically, administrations have found it difficult to get Congress to make cuts. Earlier experience with ZBB has shown it to be most effective in cutting back on day-to-day operating expenses of government, such as maintenance program. But most federal outlays are not in this category.
Along with its other conclusions, the report also criticized the Office of Management and Budget, which runs the ZBB program, for not taking the effort "seriously."
The report said budget officers in several federal agencies complained that once they submitted their ZBB recommendations to the White House, the budget agency did not follow up on them.
The findings in the new study were based on responses from 56 federal agencies that were required to use ZBB last year.