Congress's investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), recently released its latest analysis of the executive branch's civilian government workforce, and it shows a modest increase between 2004 to 2012. However, the GAO's analysis does not take into account workforce reductions of around 70,000 in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). When the 28,000 full-time equivalent reductions from 2011 to 2012 are included, there has been a contraction of the federal civilian workforce of around 100,000 in the last three years.1 The report also leaves out significant context, which might lead readers to draw somewhat different conclusions about how the federal workforce has changed over time.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a "bully pulpit" as "a public office or position of authority that provides its occupant with an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue." President Theodore Roosevelt was the first to call the White House a bully pulpit, and he and other heads of the executive branch have used it as a platform to raise the profile of various issues and push forward an agenda for change. The most regular, high-profile instance of highlighting priority issues is the annual "State of the Union" address (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt first called it that in 1934), where the president addresses a joint session of Congress huddled together in the House chamber.
Observers have low expectations of the special House-Senate committee set up to craft recommendations for a long-term fiscal deal to replace the next nine years of so-called "sequestration" (automatic and indiscriminate budget cuts). Those recommendations are due by Dec. 13. The committee met for the first time last week, with Republicans publicly opposed to tax reforms that could generate more revenue and Democrats rejecting a spending cuts-only approach. But some think a smaller deal could happen to replace a year or more of sequestration, involving more "federal user fees" as a modest way to generate more funding.
America's fighter and attack aircraft fleet is aging. Unfortunately, the only real program in place to address this issue – the F-35 "Lightning II" Joint Strike Fighter – is producing overpriced aircraft with fundamental design problems that will make them inferior weapons. The program should be cancelled. America's current fighter and attack jets should be refurbished, and the military should start new programs that are not excessively expensive. This would provide better national security and free up funds for vital domestic programs.
Potentially central to any fiscal deal later this year are savings in the government's popular Medicare program that currently helps about 52 million Americans obtain health care. However, the way those savings are achieved will have vastly different consequences for older Americans.
Last week, the House broke with four decades of congressional tradition and narrowly passed a federal Farm Bill, 216-208, without any Democratic support. The break in tradition came when the House stripped nutrition programs – notably food stamps, vital to nearly one in seven struggling Americans – out of the bill after many Republicans voted against an earlier version because they felt it did not cut enough out of the food stamp program.
Sequestration's blunt approach to spending reductions is bad policy, and legislators from both parties have recognized this and proposed targeted savings at the Department of Defense (DOD) as a partial alternative. The amount of money at stake is significant. DOD and other defense-related spending typically represents more than 50 percent of federal discretionary spending each year.
Although the private sector has been adding jobs, the United States still has roughly 2.4 million fewer jobs as of May 2013 than it did at the beginning of the latest recession, which started in December 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the problem is even greater. Given a growing population and the number of discouraged and underemployed workers, to reach an unemployment rate closer to the historical norm, more than 8.5 million jobs need to be created.
In the midst of shrinking federal spending on infrastructure, scientific research, Head Start, and other government programs, the costs of government contractor executives' salaries and compensation are set to soar unless Congress takes action. This is another example of how current government policies transfer resources to the wealthy and away from the programs that broadly support and grow a vibrant middle class.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unveiled its discussion draft of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013 on May 10. This legislation, more commonly known as the DATA Act, is intended to bring unprecedented public transparency to federal spending by requiring more spending data to be published online, in a standardized format, and in a searchable, downloadable database.
Sequestration's automatic spending cuts were back in the news over the past few weeks. For a brief time, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had to furlough employees, leading to nationwide flight delays. At roughly the same time, a researcher exposed major flaws in one of the key texts serving as an intellectual buttress to global austerity policies. While those fighting against economically damaging austerity measures received a boost from these events, many fiscal policy battles and pitfalls still lie ahead.
Sequestration's automatic cuts to federal spending are beginning to sting in communities across the country, and two of the four major congressional budget plans put forth this year are at odds with public opinion on specific areas of public investments, according to a Center for Effective Government analysis. As the Pew Research Center found in a pre-sequestration poll in February, most Americans say they support maintaining or increasing funding for specific federal programs, including education, Social Security, and Medicare.