By Nicole Gaudiano
There are real consequences when Congress fails to make tough decisions on the federal budget, including higher contracting costs, paying for outdated programs, and wasted time and low morale for federal employees, witnesses testified Wednesday at a congressional hearing.
Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, held Wednesday's hearing, saying "crisis budgeting" has likely made government less effective and more costly.
"By failing to provide timely, predictable budgets, we are generating waste throughout our government and exporting some of that waste to our state and local partners and everyone who relies on us," he said.
Congress' failure to pass a budget resolution in seven of the last 15 years is a "bipartisan problem," Philip Joyce, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Joyce suggested Congress make it more difficult to pass stopgap spending measures like the one funding government programs now.
"We have recently limped along from one crisis to another," Joyce said. "We hear a lot in this town about waste in government, which undoubtedly exists, but part of it is caused by these practices."
Carper has long called for a comprehensive budget and deficit reduction plan. He was among three Democrats who voted in January against the "fiscal cliff" deal passed by Congress, calling it another example of a last-minute fix to big problems.
On Wednesday, Carper highlighted findings by the Government Accountability Office that funding delays prevented the Bureau of Prisons from locking in contracting prices for a new facility in West Virginia, costing an extra $5.4 million.
Carper said another 2011 funding delay caused the Navy to cancel seven ship-repair contracts, which is expected to increase costs and decrease operational effectiveness.
"I believe the best route we can take is to pass a comprehensive, bipartisan plan that gives government and business certainty and shows the American people that we can lead," he said.
The hearing coincided with Senate consideration of another measure to fund the government through the end of fiscal 2013.
Both the House and Senate also unveiled budget proposals this week that likely will lead to more partisan battles. And another vote looms on increasing the country's borrowing limit.
Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, said uncertainty about federal funding prevents planning on the state level.
Meanwhile, frustrated federal employees, whose pay has been frozen for more than two years, are retiring at increasing rates, said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal employees from 31 agencies.
They know budgets need to be tight, she said, but they see the waste that comes from congressional delays, contingency planning and short-term solutions.
"It's not surprising that they think the wrong people are getting the pay cut," she said.