Congress’s use of repeated continuing resolutions rather than a full budget authorization to fund the government damages the Congressional Budget Office’s ability to effectively produce reports, director Keith Hall told members of the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday.
“It does make things harder. We’ve actually put off some things that we weren’t intending to put off, some computer work and some things like that,” said Hall. “If we continue under a CR, right now we’ll have to curtail our hiring, we’ll have to move down a few slots, we’ll have to cancel some training and travel. So it does have a consequence for us. It does degrade our performance.”
The stall in hiring is particularly damaging to CBO performance, as Hall testified that the current staff already struggles to meet the requests made by committees and congressmen.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told Hall that at the end of the day, the CBO simply needs to be faster at processing congressional requests.
But the office is often unable to provide estimates on certain proposed legislation, particularly healthcare, or work on pilot transparency programs because employees are already too busy completing work requested by congressional committees.
“We’re doing a complete rewrite of our main model for doing health care insurance estimates, the so-called HISIM [Health Insurance Simulation] model,” said Hall. “That rewrite will happen over the next year. But, to give you an idea, since I’ve been on board we’ve had plans to completely redo this model. It’s been three years. We would’ve been finished by now if, over the past year, we hadn’t gotten so many health care related requests. So the same people who would be updating the model were busy doing cost estimates.”
Health care already has a large dedicated staff in the CBO, 40 of the total 230 employees, giving an indication of just how many health care requests the office has to process.
“The truth is, as any business person in America will tell you, you can’t run any kind of entity on a month-to-month basis,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.. “We are a $4 trillion entity. That is what the United States government is. There are some agencies that clearly need more funding, there are some agencies that need less funding, and the idea that we’re saying that every agency of government every month is going to get exactly the same amount of money that they previously got because of a continuing resolution is insane.”
Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., agreed with Sanders that the budgeting process was to blame for the situation many agencies find themselves in, where the majority “crams down the throat of the minority” their political statement about how they believe the money should be spent.
“You get caught in the middle,” Purdue told Hall. “One side likes your opinion, the other side doesn’t like your opinion.”
Negotiations between the minority and majority are likely to heat up again in the coming weeks, as the latest continuing resolution passed through Congress only funds the government through Feb. 8, 2018, necessitating another resolution or budget appropriations to keep the government open.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.