February 16, 2011 10:17am
|By Bill Wilson -
National Review’s Deroy Murdock is reporting that Sen. Tom Coburn has discovered over $703 billion in unobligated federal funds in the Obama budget that ‘have not yet been committed by contract or other legally binding action by the government,’ according to the Office of Management and Budget.
This includes $16.4 billion for the Dept. of Labor, $25.2 billion for Housing and Urban Development, and $309.1 billion of unspent TARP funds at Treasury.
According to Murdock, the funds include “money that Congress has appropriated for agencies and programs in every corner of the federal government. When that money goes unspent, it just sits there -- like an ancient wooden chest on a Caribbean island, just waiting to be pried open.”
More like waiting to be pried away from the clutches of government bureaucrats, but leaving that aside.
With a national debt over $14 trillion, it is simply inexcusable that Congress is borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars to be spent on God knows what, just to have the money sit around unused. We are borrowing and printing money we don’t even need.
Which makes this the worst case of government waste in human history, the ultimate slush fund. Although, to be fair, this year’s $703 billion unobligated funds may actually not be as bad as its predecessors. For 2010, unobligated funds stood at $766.7 billion. In 2009, it was $1.012 trillion. In 2008, it was $706 billion.
This means that every year appropriators are padding the budget with almost $1 trillion in unnecessary funds. The current amount, $703 billion, represents about half of the current $1.5 trillion budget deficit. That is so much money, that amount could be cut immediately from the FY 2012 budget, and many of the departments and agencies would still be fully funded for that year.
Sen. Coburn should dig deeper. Members of Congress need to find out from each and every agency and department why this money has gone unspent, and hold the heads of those agencies and departments accountable for their apparent incompetence. Some $82.4 billion of these funds have been sitting around for at least six years, according to Coburn.
For example, the next time Labor Secretary Hilda Solis testifies in front of the House Committee Education and the Workforce, Chairman John Kline should ask her why $16.4 billion of her department’s funding is simply not being used. After all, that is more than its entire $13.5 billion discretionary budget.
What is the sense of appropriating money that is simply not being used? So bad are the Department of Labor’s books that it did not even have the necessary documentation for a recent audit to be carried out by the Inspector General, according to a recent video report by Americans for Limited Government’s Frank McCaffrey.
More broadly, at least two actions can be taken by Congress in response to this wasteful outrage. First, members should ascertain the average amount of unobligated funds every year for every department and agency, and cut that from the budget baseline. If it even begins to approach the $703 billion total, the savings will be in the hundreds of billions.
Second, most of the $703 billion in unused money should be deauthorized and rededicated to paying down the national debt. This would be an enormous down payment, about 5 percent of the total $14 trillion owed.
After all, as Senator Coburn suggests, “Congress is approving increases in government funding faster than bureaucrats can spend it!” That is simply unacceptable. Congress now needs to do the hard work of cutting out this fat, and make certain that in the future departments and agencies are no longer allowed to pad their budgets.
Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government.