National Taxpayers Union
Statement of Peter J. Sepp, Vice President for Communications National Taxpayers Union Before the United States Senate Environment and Public Works Committee On S. 1987, The Corps of Engineers Modernization and Improvement Act of 2002
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, on behalf of the 335,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU), I am pleased to offer our support for S. 1987, the "Corps of Engineers Modernization and Improvement Act of 2002." Although I am unable to attend these important hearings in person, and am aware that several colleague organizations will be providing testimony on this legislation, I am pleased to offer NTU's own brief views on S. 1987.
Over the past several decades, taxpayers have witnessed a sharp decline in discipline as well as accountability in virtually every component of the federal budget process. Federal taxes are hovering at a postwar high in terms of their burden on the nation's economic output, and thereby inflict huge "deadweight losses" on a private sector that is currently struggling its way out of an economic downturn. In the past ten years alone, federal spending has grown nearly twice as fast as the rate of inflation.
Meanwhile, agencies continue to mismanage these funds with an astounding level of indifference. This year the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) gave "red lights" for fiscal recklessness to over half of the 26 federal departments in each one of the five categories used to evaluate them. For its part, Congress often shuns a more methodical merit-based appropriations process in favor of a politically tilted patchwork of earmarks and open-ended authorizations. Last year, the Washington Post reported that House Members alone had requested nearly 19,000 earmarks totaling $279 billion in the spending bills before Congress, marking a three-fold escalation of the practice since 1995.
Few areas of federal spending seem more impacted by these trends than public works projects, many of which are undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers. Members of the Committee and their staff, led by Senator Smith, are to be commended for taking such a systematic approach to addressing the accumulated defects of the water resources development spending process, through the Corps of Engineers Modernization and Improvement Act. Although this legislation cannot erase the fiscal perils of the past overnight, it could, if properly implemented and vigorously enforced, provide measurable and significant benefits to taxpayers.
Among the advantages we find most attractive are:
No statutory legislation can promise to completely overhaul a fundamentally flawed budget process. In an ideal world, constitutional restraints on tax and spending increases, merit- and performance-based budgeting, more state and local responsibility for their own programs, and regulatory reform to promote privately-built and maintained public works projects, would all be part of a comprehensive solution. However, the Corps of Engineers Modernization and Improvement Act of 2002 could serve as a solid bridge to take our nation toward this more fiscally responsible destination. Equally important, this bill could serve as a guide for policymakers seeking reform in other capital spending-intensive areas, such as transportation or federal office space.
For these reasons, the National Taxpayers Union strongly urges Members of the Committee and your colleagues in the Senate to support the Corps of Engineers Modernization and Improvement Act of 2002, and NTU looks forward to working with you towards the enactment of this critical legislation. Once again, I appreciate the opportunity to present our perspective on an issue that deserves a rightful place on Congress's agenda.