by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Justin Bogie highlights in a Daily Signal column one little-known way in which the federal government wastes money.
A key driver of wasteful spending in Washington is what some call “zombie” appropriations.
This refers to spending on programs that either have never been authorized, or are operating under an expired authorization. According to the Congressional Budget Office, these programs accounted for nearly one-third of all discretionary spending in fiscal year 2016, receiving more than $310 billion.
Under both House and Senate rules, a program that does not have an up-to-date authorization is not supposed to be able to receive an appropriation. Unfortunately, these rules are almost always ignored, and “zombie” programs continue to receive funding.
Some may wonder, why does it matter if zombie programs continue to receive funding?
One of Congress’ core constitutional authorities is to maintain the power of the purse. Authorization legislation, budget resolutions, and appropriations bills (collectively known as regular order) are key components of Congress’ oversight function.
By authorizing agencies and programs on a regular basis, Congress is able to examine the activities that receive taxpayer dollars. This also allows Congress to consider the usefulness of government programs and make sometimes tough decisions about what the nation’s spending priorities should be. With the gross federal debt now approaching $20 trillion, it is clear that Congress has a spending problem.
Lack of oversight has at least in part contributed to this problem. Congress should be working toward reducing wasteful spending and finding ways to put spending and debt on a sustainable path.
Yet at the very least, it should perform its oversight function and fully account for exactly how scarce taxpayer resources are being spent.