The federal government has 19 programs to combat substance abuse, 86 to train teachers and 27 to help prevent teenage pregnancy, but none to ensure that federal agencies are organized in the most efficient way possible, four GOP lawmakers said yesterday.
The lawmakers say they have the answer: Form a commission. More than one, actually.
The group is pushing legislation that would allow the president, with Congress's approval, to create one permanent "sunset commission" that would regularly weigh in on whether federal agencies should be eliminated, and several ad-hoc panels, known as "results commissions," that would examine whether programs and agencies should be reorganized. Congress would have the final say on the panels' recommendations but could not amend them.
Establishing such commissions has been a priority for the Bush administration, which says it needs more tools to make government run better.
"Both of these proposals ought to appeal to all members [of Congress] who believe there are inefficiencies in the way the federal government works," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which would help decide the fate of the legislation. "This is long overdue."
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), the chief sponsor of the sunset commission bill, said the government must curtail spending during a time of war and rising federal budget deficits. The sunset commission would review all agencies at least once every decade.
"Every agency that succeeds ought to be able to justify their existence to taxpayers today -- not 100 years ago when they were created," he said.
Critics describe the proposals as an attempt to consolidate power in the executive branch. They say the reviews would distract agencies from their missions, and the White House would be able to stack such commissions with lobbyists serving a political agenda. The president would name all seven members of both kinds of commissions but must consult the leaders of both major parties in the House and Senate in selecting four of them.
"It's an extraordinary waste of government resources," said J. Robert Schull, director of regulatory policy for OMB Watch, a nonprofit research and advocacy group.
Schull said the Government Accountability Office and inspectors general within agencies already regularly conduct reviews of how well the bureaucracy is working. He noted that the proposed commissions would not be required to meet in public or hold public hearings. And their members would not be covered by the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires that advisory commissions be fairly balanced by including a variety of points of view.
Similar proposals have failed to get traction in Congress in the past, partly because lawmakers resist any encroachment on their ability to create, fund and preserve programs that are economically important to their districts.
"These little programs build up constituencies around themselves, and that's one of the problems we have," said Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), who is sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate.
Clay Johnson III, a deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the initiative was not about shrinking the size of government.
"This is not an anti-government issue. It's a pro-government issue," Johnson said. "We just want government to work more efficiently."
Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.), the chief sponsor of the results commission bill, said, "This is about getting the job done."