Bipartisan Senate Bill Highlights Congress’s Opportunity to Save “Tens of Billions”

The Hassan-Ernst bill would rescind $1.5 billion from a fund Congress terminated decades ago

While Congress is focused on the debt limit and trillion-dollar spending packages, the  Government Accountability Office (GAO) continues to highlight opportunities for lawmakers and federal agencies to save “tens of billions” implementing the nonpartisan watchdog’s recommendations for reforming the government. 

And Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) took the proactive step of introducing bipartisan legislation to answer one of GAO’s commonsense recommendations. Their bill would rescind $1.5 billion in funding that has been sitting in the U.S. Enrichment Corporation Fund (which Congress privatized in the 1990s) and transfer the savings to the Treasury. 

“It is absurd that $1.5 billion is currently sitting in a federal account for a program that disbanded more than 20 years ago,” Senator Hassan commented

“This bipartisan bill is commonsense, and will redirect these dollars towards addressing the federal deficit,” reasoned Senator Ernst.

One of GAO’s 4,679 open recommendations to improve government operations 

In 2015, GAO identified the opportunity to save $1.5 billion that had been sitting in the funds account since the Clinton administration, as GAO’s current summary of the open recommendation explains:

“Congress may wish to consider permanent rescission of the entire $1.5 billion balance of the U.S. Enrichment Corporation Fund–a revolving fund in the U.S. Treasury–because its purposes have been fulfilled.”

As the Congressional watchdog pointed out in 2015, Congress privatized the fund in 1998 after it completed its mission to pay for “environmental clean-up expenses associated with the disposition of depleted uranium at two specific facilities” was completed. But Congress never passed legislation to rescind its remaining funding. 

$515 billion saved and counting thanks to GAO’s work examining duplication

GAO made the above recommendation in one of its annual reports reviewing duplication, fragmentation, and overlap in government programs, which Congress has required by law since 2010. 

On Tuesday, GAO released an update on the progress that has been made by these annual reports since 2011:

“Since these annual reports began, Congress and agencies have fully or partially implemented many of the actions we suggested. We estimate that this will likely lead to more than half a trillion dollars ($515 billion) in cost savings and revenue increases. Fully addressing the remaining 441 actions could save tens of billions more dollars and improve government services.”

The latest report from the Congressional watchdog explains that Congress and federal agencies have fully- or partially answered 73 percent of the recommendations made in these annual reports on duplication, fragmentation, and overlap. GAO counts 441 open recommendations related to this work.

How much more could Congress save taxpayers by implementing these and GAO’s more than 4,200 other open recommendations? 

Congress may soon have an answer. House Appropriators included language in their committee report for the Legislative Branch funding bill to require the Comptroller General to estimate just how much agencies could save by implementing all of GAO’s open recommendations. 

That report could provide eye-opening figuring just how much federal agencies are wasting by not implementing the good government reforms recommended by nonpartisan watchdogs. It should also inspire lawmakers to introduce legislation to force agencies to improve federal programs and trim the federal budget.

As Lincoln’s Zach Graves explained in his written testimony for the House Select Committee on Modernization’s hearing on Congressional support agencies (which was unfortunately postponed due to House votes), Congress could also require GAO to “provide legislative options to each congressional committee to address priority open recommendations and related work from its high-risk areas to jumpstart bipartisan legislative activity based on nonpartisan oversight.” Zach reasoned:

“GAO’s recommendations often provide a bipartisan starting point for legislative reform that both political parties can support. Requiring GAO to present legislative options annually to each congressional committee for addressing priority open recommendations or high-risk areas could jumpstart bipartisan legislative efforts to address the nation’s most pressing challenges.”

Such a move would presumably spur more bipartisan efforts to streamline and improve the federal government’s operations. 

In the meantime, Senator Hassan and Senator Ernst deserve credit for attempting to cut one embarrassing example of government waste. Only 4,678 open recommendations to go.

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