Biennial budget process will reduce agency waste, increase congressional efficiency

Tuesday - 3/4/2014, 2:00am EST

Congressman Reid Ribble's column is part of Federal News Radio's special report, Now or Never: Ideas to Save the Failing Budget Process, in which eight budget experts offer their take on what can be done to fix the broken system.

Commentary by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.)
House Budget Committee Member

Reid Ribble on In Depth with Francis Rose.

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For too long, Washington has stumbled from budget crisis to budget crisis. Government shutdowns, short-term spending bills and an ad-hoc oversight process have corrupted our nation's ability to budget effectively. Many of our problems stem from Congress consistently failing to pass an annual budget and its appropriations bills.

Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.)

Ever year, Congress is required by law to pass a budget. Congress is also required to pass 12 different spending bills to fund the government. Since Congress created new budget rules in the mid-1970s, they have never passed both a budget and all required spending bills on time in the same year. Never.

In fact, since 2001, Congress has managed to enact only 8.3 percent of those spending bills on time. Our current budget system actually works worse in election years. In the past eight election years, Congress has failed 75 percent of the time to even pass a budget. No boss in the world would accept this work performance from his or her employees, and it's unacceptable that Congress can't get its work done for the American people.

Recent studies have also shown that our budget process encourages agencies to develop a "use it or lose it" mentality. Agencies spend nearly 20 percent of their annual funds in the final five weeks of the year. Billions are spent unnecessarily, simply to avoid "losing" the money or giving it back to the Treasury.

Additionally, Congress wastes billions every year funding programs that are unnecessary and duplicative because it simply doesn't have enough time to properly review the government's budget and spending activities. This is a clear failure to govern, and both parties are responsible. The American people deserve better than a broken system that creates unwanted economic uncertainty.

In order to foster greater economic certainty and create a better functioning, more efficient federal government, Congress should switch to a biennial budgeting system. Twenty states currently use biennial budgeting, and have produced great results. Every President since Ronald Reagan has supported switching to a two-year system. Now, after dozens of conversations with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle over the past few months, I am pleased to say that my legislation has more than 140 bipartisan cosponsors, and was recently approved by the House Budget Committee on a strong bipartisan vote of 22-10.

A biennial budgeting system creates greater oversight of federal agencies and the programs they oversee. Instead of forcing agencies to spend all of their time bureaucratically researching, planning, and submitting budget plans for the upcoming fiscal year, biennial budgeting creates set times for departments to submit their budget plans, and dedicates the rest of the time to actually governing. And instead of encouraging agencies to use funds wastefully at the end of the year simply so they don't risk having a smaller budget the next year, agencies would have a longer time window to make effective, necessary spending decisions.

We cannot allow future generations to suffer because of our fiscal failures. In order to fix our broken process, Congress should scrap our current dysfunction that promotes waste and economic uncertainty, and instead implement a process that gives Congress more time to research and discuss the problems in a responsible, fact-based manner. Switching to a biennial budgeting system won't fully solve our nation's budget woes, and hard decisions will still remain, but it will allow for Congress to better understand the problems and find responsible solutions to them.

Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) is a member of the House Budget Committee, which recently passed H.R.1869: Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act of 2013, a bill Ribble introduced.