Nonpartisan federal government agencies that often go unnoticed but are vital for good government include the U.S Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The CBO, for example, has provided Congress with budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process for over 40 years.
The concept of good government has always been vital to our democracy. Good government at its core promotes principles such as accountability, openness, integrity, transparency, and reliability. When good government, including agencies such as the CBO and GAO, is supported, the nation and its entire people thrive.
Unfortunately, in Congress, House lawmakers have now introduced an amendment to eliminate CBO’s entire Budget Analysis division (cutting 89 positions) and cut CBO’s budget by $15 million.
Just for reference, CBO currently has a staff of about 235 people. In other words, the proposed amendment would cut CBO’s staff by 38 percent. And from a budget standpoint, the amendment means CBO would lose a third (33 percent) of its funding next year.
A cut of this magnitude would severely damage effective and long-standing good government processes that have helped the U.S. for decades, as professional staff would no longer be able to analyze federal spending or provide formal cost estimates for nearly every bill approved by Congressional committees.
North Carolina’s U.S. House Representative, Mark Meadows (R-District 11), who supports this amendment to cut CBO has stated he would use a rule called the Holman Rule, which allows Congress to cut salaries for individual federal workers, for the first time since 1983. The concern here is that if the House succeeds in doing this to CBO, they could replicate this type of cut at other agencies. [Note: The Holman Rule which was removed in 1983 was reinstated by House Republicans earlier this year.]
All of this is ironic and unfortunate considering that just last Friday every former CBO director signed a letter to congressional leadership that stated: “We write to express our strong objection to recent attacks on the integrity and professionalism of the agency and on the agency’s role in the legislative process.”
No matter which political party one belongs to, it is important to know that these types of devastating budget and staffing cuts to a government agency that is grounded on upholding good government principles are wrong. The CBO has consistently proven that it takes a number of steps to ensure that all of its work is objective, impartial, and nonpartisan—the importance of which was emphasized by CBO’s founding director, Alice Rivlin, in a 1-page memo to CBO staff in 1976 and is posted on CBO’s website.
Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.