FY '11 Savings Lost to Continuing Budget Fight
by Craig Jennings, 3/18/2011
Although congressional combatants believe they are fighting a worthy budget battle, the collateral damage of not coming to agreement is accumulating. Robert Pear at the New York Times and Andy Sullivan at Reuters have reported two noteworthy pieces suggesting that when Congress finally gets its FY 2011 act together, the savings from whatever budget cuts result will significantly eroded by the waste that their dithering has caused.
Head Start managers say parents, unsure of the whether there will continue to be space for their children, are trying to arrange alternative child care for preschoolers.
Michael J. Astrue, the commissioner of Social Security, said the agency had cut back distribution of annual earnings and benefit statements and had suspended plans to open eight hearing offices that would tackle a huge backlog of appeals by people seeking disability benefits.
"The continuing resolution represents a crisis at our doorstep," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said. One result, he said, is "inefficient, start-and-stop management" of the armed forces, with greater use of one- and two-month contracts, which are inherently inefficient.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, expressed disbelief. "We now have a state-of-the-art, $276 million prison that is sitting vacant," Ms. Shaheen said. "The federal Bureau of Prisons is spending $4 million a year to maintain an empty building."
Agency heads must devote their time to contingency plans, rather than actual policy. And the government's ability to handle tax dollars in a responsible manner dwindles every day the budget standoff continues, as purchasing managers will possibly only have a few weeks to bid out contracts on everything from computer support to food service, a process that normally takes six months.
The construction delays from Navy-related projects alone could cost the U.S. 10,000 jobs, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 8. It could take three years for the Navy's plans to get back on track, he said.
The budget uncertainties have backed NASA into a corner, with the retirement of the 30-year-old space shuttle program on track for this year, but no U.S. replacement vehicle available to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. With plans to develop a private-sector shuttle in limbo, the United States is dependent on Russia for space station crew transportation.
The impasse also commits NASA to continue funding a moon exploration program that Obama and legislators already agreed to cancel.
And on and on and on.
Image by Flickr user andyburnfield used under a Creative Commons license.