- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The 154 spending programs President Bush wants to terminate, merge or cut is the result of a question that Congress rarely asks anymore: Is this program effective?

It hasn’t drawn much if any public attention, but for the past three years the Bush administration has run hundreds of programs through a rigorous test called the Program Assessment Rating Tool to measure each program’s management and performance.

The test was designed by the White House Office of Management and Budget and begun in 2002. OMB thus far has evaluated 607 programs, comprising 60 percent of the federal budget. Each had to pass an exam of about 30 questions that can be boiled down to these two basic principles: Does the program meet the nation’s priorities? Does it produce the intended results? The overall scores were not a pretty picture.

Only a pathetic 15 percent of the programs were “effective,” 26 percent were “moderately effective,” 26 percent were found to be only “adequate,” 4 percent were “ineffective,” and 29 percent were rated “results not demonstrated.”

The worst of the worst were culled from this assessment and the result is about $30 billion in proposed program terminations, consolidations and spending reductions.

The list has not received much news media coverage, in part because OMB didn’t release it until a week or so after Mr. Bush sent his 2006 budget to Congress. Many spending critics questioned whether the White House really wanted to give the budget-cutting list much attention, but after numerous inquires, the list was put on OMB Web site and bound copies were distributed last week.

Notably, the 233-page budget-cutting document is not just an index list of program names and their dollar costs. Each program listed for the ax is accompanied by a one-page brief arguing why it deserves to be ended, cut and folded into other programs, an idea Ronald Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, used in the budget battles of the 1980s.

Most of the programs are relatively small, and some transfer spending to other priority expenditures. But some are big programs Mr. Bush puts on the chopping block.

He would end the troubled Hubble space telescope robotic servicing mission which is becoming inordinately expensive. Savings: $291 million. He would slash 10 percent out of the billions of dollars in farm subsidies he signed in his first term because farm prices are now much higher and farm income has doubled. He would end three-quarters of a billion dollars that Amtrak gets each year to subsidize its inefficient operations.

Among the smaller items on the list, Mr. Bush goes after a lot of ineffective or very low-or-no-priority programs that deserve to be abolished. Among them:

• Advance Technology subsidies: This corporate welfare program awards industry grants to bankroll technology research and development projects that businesses should finance themselves. Federal bureaucrats have a very poor track record in high-tech investments and shouldn’t be picking the winners and losers in the economy. Savings: $136 million.

c Teacher quality enhancement program: Begun by President Clinton in 1998, this provides grants to schools of education and school districts to recruit and train teachers. But OMB found it duplicates other, larger teacher support programs. A performance assessment rated it “Results Not Demonstrated.” Savings: $68 million.

• Congressional pork: Congress earmarked thousands of spending projects at universities and other institutions last year that were not in the budget.

For example, $60 million in pork went to the Centers for Disease Control that CDC did not request or review — in one case to buy fitness equipment for a YMCA. Another $476 million in earmarked projects was run through the Department of Health and Human Services. Mr. Bush wants both terminated.

• COPS hiring grants: Justice Department grants begun under Mr. Clinton to assist local police forces duplicate other law enforcement programs. An OMB assessment “showed the program could not demonstrate results.” Savings: $10 million.

These and hundreds of other budget cuts have been praised by some of Mr. Bush’s fiercest spending critics.

“Overall, it’s a strong list. This is what conservatives have been waiting for since Bush took office,” said chief budget analyst Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation. “It’s rare for a president to ask for this many program terminations.”

Many programs on the list were proposed by Mr. Bush for cutting before and Congress chose to keep funding them. But this year may be different. Republican leaders know they have to demonstrate they are controlling spending. And appropriations committee chairmen are under orders to cut out the fat. Mr. Bush has said he wants funding bills kept within his nondefense discretionary spending limits, and administration officials say he will use the veto threat to get what he wants.

With looming pressures of Social Security reform, Medicare prescription bills, increased defense needs in the antiterror war, and a big $400 billion deficit, this will be the year of cost-cutting. Mr. Bush’s long list of cuts is a good place to start.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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