Short-term funding leads to long-term problems

Kimberly Adams Sep 30, 2015
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Short-term funding leads to long-term problems

Kimberly Adams Sep 30, 2015
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Congress has voted to fund the government — for 10 more weeks, anyway — using a continuing resolution, a stop-gap measure that’s grown more popular over the years.

Continuing resolutions have been in the congressional tool box since the 1800s. But Princeton’s Julian Zelizer says the way they’re used today is a more recent development.

“Instead of a short-term fix as they were when they were used before the 1970s,” he said, “they became the solution and the way in which we decide how much we’re going to fund programs over the course of the year.”

You can partially blame the Watergate scandal, which led Congress to take control of the budget from the White House. The idea was to create a streamlined, open budget process. If that didn’t work, continuing resolutions could be a backup plan, or they could just be used all the time.

“During all but three of the last 30 years, Congress has used continuing resolutions,” said Michelle Sager, director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office. The agency did a study a few years back on how short-term funding affects the way government is run.

“[Continuing resolutions] create uncertainty about when agencies will receive their final appropriations, as well as what the final level of funding will be,” Sager said.

And that uncertainty can be expensive.

“It costs you more money to buy services in chunks of three or four months,” said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service. There aren’t hard numbers available, but he estimates the costs at billions of dollars. And remember, government workers have to prepare for a shutdown just in case.

“The truth is the damage has already been done,” Stier said. “We’re already distracting people who are doing vital things for the American public, from doing the jobs we really want them to do.”

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