By Dennis Ross
In recent years, your federal government has spent $615,000 to digitize Grateful Dead tickets, $442,000 to study male prostitutes in Vietnam, $2.5 million for a Super Bowl commercial and, my personal favorite, $216,000 to study the use of "ambiguous" statements by politicians and whether they "gain or lose support by taking ambiguous positions." (I will not take a position on that study.)
There are thousands upon thousands of examples such as these that beg the question, "who authorized these expenditures?" The sad answer to that legitimate question is that no one did. The money flows to agencies and departments without accountability or expectation.
Don't believe me? Government auditors spent the past five years examining all federal programs and found that 22 percent of them -- costing taxpayers a total of $123 billion annually -- failed to show any positive impact on the populations they serve. When the federal government says you are failing, you must really be failing. Yet, you can visit www.expectmore.gov and see that most of these programs are still being funded.
But before we lay this waste and fraud entirely on the feet of departments and agencies supported by our liberal friends, I ask my fellow conservatives to remove the beam from our own eye first. As of 2008, more than $13 billion in Iraq aid has been classified as wasted or stolen. Another $7.8 billion cannot be accounted for. In addition to waste overseas, a 2008 GAO audit found that 95 Pentagon weapons systems suffered from a combined $295 billion in cost overruns.
Before I was honored by you, my fellow citizens, to serve in Congress, I spent the past 20 years owning and operating a small law firm in Lakeland. I met a payroll, provided health insurance and knew that every dollar of waste was a dollar too much.
I also understood that just because we did something last year, doesn't mean we need to do it again this year. In business, before you spend money, you must ask at least three questions: Why are you spending the money? What you are spending the money on? And, after the money is spent, did you get what you paid for?
Unfortunately, in government, none of those questions are being asked -- until now.
I plan to introduce my first piece of legislation as a member of Congress on Monday. It will be titled the Zero Based Budget Act. The legislation will demand the federal government, including Congress, move to what is referred to as a zero-based budget. This method of budgeting is nothing new in business, but it will be a dramatic change for Washington.
Investopedia defines zero-based budgeting as, "A method of budgeting in which all expenses must be justified for each new period. Zero-based budgeting starts from a 'zero base' and every function within an organization is analyzed for its needs and costs. Budgets are then built around what is needed for the upcoming period, regardless of whether the budget is higher or lower than the previous one."
In addition to demanding a zero starting point, my legislation accomplishes a few other necessary reforms.
First, every department and agency of the federal government, when submitting its budget request each year, must provide a description of each activity for which a department or agency receives an appropriation.
Second, every department and agency of the federal government must cite to Congress the legal basis under which they may lawfully receive an appropriation.
Third, every department and agency of the federal government must offer three alternative funding levels. Additionally, two out of the three must be for less money than the prior budget year. This innovative budget mechanism will allow agencies and department leaders to help Congress cut waste, or risk Congress taking an across-the-board approach. Tell us where to cut or we will cut for you.
Lastly, for each activity for which a department or agency requests money, they must provide a summary of its cost effectiveness and efficiency to the taxpayer. This will allow Congress and taxpayers to judge whether we are truly getting our money's worth.
In the coming weeks I will be soliciting help from my colleagues to move this legislation to the president. Cutting waste, fraud and excess is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Demanding accountability and performance is not the sole property of one party. Call, write, and e-mail others to join this effort. If successful, $1.7 million for pig-odor research won't be the only pork we get rid of.