News - Bill's Blog

How big is your federal government? How many programs does it run?

August 5, 2020

I just completed a report on efforts to have the federal government complete an accounting project Congress called for years ago. My report is titled "The Federal Program Inventory: Rehabbing a Long-Lost Train Wreck." The report describes what a federal program inventory is, why many members of Congress believe it is needed, and the history of efforts to get a good inventory finished. The report concludes with a recommendation to give the lead role to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Back in 2010, Congress passed something called the GPRA Modernization Act. “GPRA” stands for “Government Performance and Results Act,” a law Congress passed in 1993 to address waste and inefficiency in federal government.programs. That 1993 law included a goal to “improve congressional decisionmaking by providing more objective information on achieving statutory objectives, and on the relative effectiveness and efficiency of federal programs and spending,” among other stated purposes. 

The 2010 “Modernization Act” tried to beef up the 1993 framework, and included a directive to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is in the executive branch, to lead the development of a website with “information about each program identified by the agencies.” That directive was included in a section titled “Transparency of programs, priority goals, and results.” Among other goals for that website, Congressional leaders cited a desire to reduce duplicative and wasteful federal spending.

But over time, some leaders in Congress and elsewhere have expressed concern that the OMB and the executive branch haven’t lived up to the letter and the spirit of the laws calling for what is now called a Federal Program Inventory. 

Here's a mid-2019 press release from the United States Senate Committee on the Budget announcing the delivery of a letter from 17 Senators to OMB expressing concern about the lack of progress on this score. Here's a copy of that letter.

My report documents some of that history, describes how a successful inventory could make a valuable contribution, and makes some recommendations, including a fundamental recommendation that Congress abandon efforts to have OMB lead the inventory, and to put it in the hands of the GAO. My report also includes a thorough chronological bibliography of resources on the issue, including articles and reports from Congress, the GAO, the OMB, other executive branch agencies, think tanks, and the general media. Click here to view the full report.

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