Campbell Anticipates ’05 Freeze

Posted March 5, 2004 at 5:53pm

Senate Appropriations cardinal Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R) advised legislative branch agencies Thursday to consider reductions in their fiscal 2005 budget requests in anticipation of a possible spending freeze.

The Colorado lawmaker, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, issued the directive Thursday during the panel’s first budget hearing of the year.

“This total level of spending will be very difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate,” Campbell said at the outset of the hearing. The legislative branch agencies are seeking a combined $4.4 billion in funding, an increase of about $457 million, or 12 percent, from the current fiscal year. According to Campbell and two agency heads, some organizations could face job cuts if budgets are reduced.

The chairman’s announcement echoes statements made by leadership of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch. Chairman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) canceled his chamber’s hearings in late February after demanding the agencies submit new requests with “reasonable funding levels.”

It appears unlikely some agencies will submit revised budget, opting instead to submit lists of possible cuts. Even that may be unnecessary, however, since Kingston suggested last week that his subcommittee could craft a spending bill without holding any hearings.

Following the Senate hearing, Campbell acknowledged he does not “personally expect a freeze” in spending levels but anticipates there will be “less to spend than [the legislative branch agencies] asked for.”

The Senate is expected to begin debate over its budget resolution this week.

Campbell said reduced budgets could lead some agencies to consider cuts in staffing levels, a possibility put forth by Comptroller General David Walker, who heads the General Accounting Office.

“It is going to be extremely difficult for us to deal with a flat-line budget. … The fact of the matter is when 81 percent of your cost represents people costs, you don’t have a whole lot of flexibility, you have to start talking about how many people do we have,” Walker said. “We may have to reduce our manpower. We would obviously only do that as a last resort, but I think it could be possible.”

The agency’s $486 million spending request constitutes a 4.9 percent increase from fiscal 2004. Walker noted that a large portion of that increase would be used to cover mandatory pay raises for staff.

“If Congress mandates pay increases and doesn’t fund those pay increases, it’s going to make it that much worse,” Walker said.

Similarly, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office, noted that his agency would be forced to cut up to 12 full-time equivalent positions if confronted with a spending freeze.

CBO is seeking $35.5 million, a 5.5 percent increase over its current budget.

“We view this as essentially a current services request,” Holtz-Eakin said. In addition to increases in staff salaries and benefits, the request includes $75,000 for telecommunications services related to the Alternate Computing Facility, an emergency facility maintained by Congressional agencies.

In response to Campbell’s query about a spending freeze, Public Printer Bruce James, who heads the Government Printing Office, responded, “We will not come back to you in tears, we will manage business. It may cause us to change the timing on some of the investments we’re making.”

GPO’s request of $151 million, a 12.1 percent increase over its fiscal 2004 budget, includes $25 million for “technology investment,” a multiyear plan to upgrade GPO’s information technology systems.

“In order to continue to transform the GPO into a 21st-century digital information processing facility with the best leading-edge digital technology in support of Congress, federal agencies and the public, we will need to invest in new technology for collecting, processing and distributing government information,” James said.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the panel’s ranking member, also announced during the hearing that he will seek two reports from GAO in coming months.

Durbin said he will request a report on the use of technology by both the House and the Senate.

“It’s my impression that the technology of the United States Senate is two steps behind the world and three steps behind the House,” Durbin said. “It’s just amazes me that there is such a dichotomy, a divergence here.”

Separately, Durbin said he will ask for a report on the use of student loan forgiveness programs by federal agencies, and the possibility of creating uniform standards for those programs.

“I don’t think they’re being applied fairly and evenly in all agencies,” Durbin said.