Committee chairmen in the U.S. House are scheduled to report later this month on where 1 percent budget cuts can be made in mandatory federal programs.
The attention couldn't come at a better time.
The Congressional Budget Office is projecting a $400 billion projected deficit for the current fiscal year and says the deficit could reach a record $480 billion for fiscal year 2004. Spending on mandatory programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, is expected to reach 11.1 percent of the nation's gross domestic product this year the highest level ever.
Defense spending, a proposed prescription drug benefit and an expanded farm bill are just some of the big-ticket items that continue to capture headlines and push the federal envelope on spending.
Too often missing in budget discussions is how officials can curb the waste, fraud and abuse that saps the federal budget of billions each year.
Candidates for cuts and reforms abound.
An inspector general with the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the federal government dishes out about $1 billion a year in overpayments in the food stamp program, with $340 million failing to reach qualified recipients.
At the Pentagon, the General Accounting Office has uncovered $6.7 billion in overpayments to contracts between 1994 and 2001. The U.S. Department of Education shelled out at least $401 million last year in improper student financial aid. The federal highway trust fund likely loses $1 billion a year in fraud.
Trimming the trust fund's fraud in half would come close to saving 1 percent of the Transportation Department's budget request of $54 billion, The Wall Street Journal said.
Identifying 1 percent in waste, fraud and abuse should be a breeze regarding most any large federal program. A study by The Heritage Foundation notes that cutting waste now saves money in future budgets as well.
Had mandatory spending been cut by 1 percent in 1980, taxpayer savings would have mounted to $190 billion through 2003, which is more than $2,000 per household. The Heritage study says taxpayers could save as much as $300 billion over the next decade if only the largest congressional committees identified 1 percent of the waste, fraud and abuse in their agency program budgets.
Trims in waste, fraud and abuse can't compete with a healthy economy as a budget solution, but they can go a long way in making government more effective, efficient and accountable for the taxpayers.
Too bad many politicians would rather wring their hands about the deficits and decry tax cuts rather than roll up their sleeves and get down to the business of cutting waste and their own spending which are too often the same things.
Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville - Sept. 9
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