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BOCCIA: Ten places to cut waste as Congress considers a budget

- - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Congress is considering an omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2014, and it's chock-full of inappropriate and wasteful spending. Lawmakers will have only a few days to read the mammoth bill before they are pressed to approve it.

But this bill deserves close scrutiny. Just because Congress reached an agreement in December to exceed the 2014 sequestration spending caps by $45 billion doesn't mean lawmakers are required to spend every single penny and keep throwing good money at bad government programs.

Goodness knows, there's lots of fat that could and should be trimmed from this bill. For starters, here is a list of 10 programs Congress should eliminate this year — and save more than $10 billion annually:

The Community Development Block Grant program, which duplicates other federal housing and economic development programs. What's worse, the grants often are diverted to pork projects, including a pet-shampoo company.

Competitive grants under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Niche competitive grant programs under the No Child Left Behind law have multiplied over the decades as federal government intervention into education grows. The programs, many of them duplicative and ineffective, include art education programs, Ready-to-Learn Television and Smaller Learning Communities.

Job Corps savings. This expensive residential job training program has an abysmal record. Numerous studies have found Job Corps to be ineffective at substantially increasing participants' wages and moving them into full-time employment.

Food for Peace Title II grants. The largest part of the federal food aid budget is found in the Department of Agriculture. These grants are inefficient and unnecessarily costly, requiring that food be purchased in the U.S. and then shipped across oceans in U.S.-flagged vessels. Congress should eliminate the purchase and shipping restrictions and request that USAID support the program with existing development funding.

The Transportation Alternatives Program, which funds bicycle paths, sidewalks, nature paths, community preservation and landscaping. There is no reason for the federal government to pick up the tab for such purely local projects.

The Conservation Technical Assistance program. The Natural Resources Conservation Service runs this costly program to help landowners maintain private property, enhance recreational opportunities for landowners and improve the aesthetic character of private land. Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize advice on how private landowners can best use their land or improve its appearance.

The Essential Air Service program. Federal taxpayers are subsidizing commercial flights in rural communities through this program. Any subsidies should come from the local or state governments that are benefiting from the service.

The Advanced Manufacturing Program. This corporate welfare program subsidizes activities leading to greater energy efficiency, with the stated goal of helping American manufacturers compete globally. Manufacturers are well aware that energy represents a significant input cost and already have sufficient incentives to lower costs and gain competitive advantages.

The Rural Business Program Account, which deals with business and industry-guaranteed loans and rural business enterprise grants. The federal government should not play venture capitalist with taxpayer money. Private capital will find its way to worthy rural investments.

Funding for the U.N. Population Fund. The fund faces persistent accusations that it has been complicit in China's coercive one-child policy, often enforced through forced abortions and forced sterilizations.

Sequestration, the automatic spending cuts Congress agreed to in 2011, succeeded in reducing discretionary spending last year. What would be even better than temporary across-the-board spending reductions is for Congress to eliminate bad federal programs permanently. Doing so would save American taxpayers money and reduce the size and scope of the federal government — saving even more money down the road and reducing federal intervention in local government and market functions.

Romina Boccia is the Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.