Issa: Government needs long term budget planning

Thursday - 3/10/2011, 10:19am EST

Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), chair, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

At a hearing Wednesday on federal pay, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said President Barack Obama's two-year pay freeze is a "farce."

This morning, on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris, the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee explained.

"When you look at the President claiming there's a freeze and there isn't a freeze, then I think we have to be genuine with the American people. Some people in government get step increases. Some don't. So we have a situation in which some people are getting a three or more percent increase this year while others are getting nothing. That's not good management."

At the hearing, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said freezing step increases would give agencies a retention problem.

Issa told Federal News Radio if "that's the debate, the President shouldn't have said it differently in the State of the Union. He should have said, 'I believe we need to have this $500 million dollars retained worth of pay increases.' And he didn't. So a lot of this is above the federal worker. It's about the President coming to grips with the fact that there's only so much money and maybe these step increases are needed, but in order to get them, we may have to find $500 million in savings in other areas that would offset it. That's the discussion we should be having with the administration and with the Office of Personnel Management, and I hope to continue that dialogue."


Throughout the discussion, Issa advocated taking a larger view of how the issues fit within the budget and the deficit. A familiar analogy is the man walking uphill with a yo-yo. The budget yo-yo may be going up and down, but the man, like the deficit, gets higher and higher.

Budget planning should be, said Issa, "the way the Department of Defense does it: quadrennial."

You should be looking at four, five, six years of budget expectations. Then having one year of appropriations, but a reasonable reliability that you begin a program where you look and say, "Well, I'm going to spend so much this year. I have an expectation that I will be getting follow on money next year," because otherwise what you do is you only think in terms of what I have right now, I'll spend it, and it means you don't do projects in a methodical way. If you're updating your computers, you don't want to update them all in one year. You probably stagger the servers and the other equipment over time.

The same thing with training. Training is one of the things that, when you're operating on CRs, managers have the least ability to make those investments in the rank-and-file level and their own training including sending people places for advanced training...

Obviously we're going to do a CR for the rest of the year, but we have to produce a budget this year. We have to do it hard. We have to make some tough choices so that managers know what they will or won't work with and we have to give them an expectation what they're going to have the year following and the year following. Because we've got over a trillion dollars in savings that has to be found. We can't find it without managers working hand in hand with us throughout government.

Continuing Resolution

Issa said Congress can't renew continuing resolutions every two weeks while savings are found and Congress comes to an agreement.

"No we can't, Amy. First of all they're wasteful because agencies actually spend more money to get less results when they're on these very short term bases. The other thing is a CR as a stopgap usually has some changes where we eliminate certain things which frees up money. When we're doing these stopgaps of two weeks, essentially we're just handing a pile of money and hoping that it's spent roughly the way it would be the two weeks before."

"The amazing thing is," continued Issa, "we didn't do a budget last year. Congress punted on doing an actual budget for the first time since 1974, so what these are are spending without a budget. And it's one of the reasons that I think it's very hard for the House and Senate and for the Republicans and Democrats to get together is the template. The basic 'the president proposes, we go through the process, we work it out and then we say this is how it's going to be spent' never happened. So ever since we ran out a year ago September, we've basically been in a continuing resolution all along and that's the worst way to run a government."