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Could 'Moneyball' solve government fiscal woes?

Copies of the Obama Administration's proposed FY 2014 federal budget are on display before going on sale at the Government Printing Office Book Store April 10, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

For every partisan issue in Congress, the very root of disagreement between the two parties is money, and how the government should spend it. But it turns out that Congress isn’t spending its money very wisely at all -- and that goes across the aisle. “Our estimates suggest that less than $1 out of a $100 the government spends is backed by any solid evidence that it actually achieves its objectives,” says Peter Orszag, who used to head the Office of Management and Budget for President Obama.

He co-authored an article in the July/August edition of The Atlantic magazine with John Bridgeland, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council for George W. Bush.

The two suggest a Moneyball Index to get Congress to look more closely at data when considering what to fund and what to defund with government money. “If you’re consistently voting for things that have been shown not to work, the public should know that” explains Orszag. “The hope would be that that would pressure members of Congress to stop behaving that way.” A public shaming, if you will.

There are plenty of examples, they say, of programs that don’t work but still get funded. Bridgeland cites a literacy program for adults and children. Data  proved the program was ineffective, but “Congress continued to spend more than a billion dollars over a course of eight years before it defunded the program, “ he says.

Bridgeland points out that saving money or spending it wisely shouldn’t be a partisan issue. “Republicans are looking for a way to constrain the growth of government spending” while Democrats are “looking to preserve the integrity of social programs that show the power and reach and effectiveness of government.”

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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