With millions of people filing their federal taxes this week, it’s a good time to check in on the nation’s finances.
Last year, the federal government ran a nearly $2.8 trillion deficit. That pushed publicly held debt to an incomprehensible $24 trillion , or more than $70,000 per person. Washington is projected to spend at least $1 trillion more than the government receives in taxes each year through the end of the decade.
Reversing the federal government’s current unsustainable fiscal path will require a culture change in Washington and political leadership from both parties. While there has been far too little progress to date, a new bipartisan bill introduced in the House of Representatives offers taxpayers a glimpse of hope.
The “Improving Government for America’s Taxpayers Act,” sponsored by Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer of Washington and Republican Rep. William Timmons of South Carolina, could save taxpayers tens (if not hundreds) of billions of dollars by simply eliminating waste. The bill would achieve this by focusing Congress’s attention on the open recommendations of the Government Accountability Office, which works as Congress’s watchdog and audits federal programs.
Since 2000, the GAO’s nonpartisan government reform recommendations have resulted in more than $1 trillion in taxpayer savings . Last year, the congressional watchdog agency reported saving nearly $3 billion by reforming a Medicare payment process and more than $1 billion by preventing fraudulent tax returns.
These are impressive results. But Congress and agencies are often slow to act on GAO’s advice. Only 75% of its recommendations are answered within four years. More than 4,600 GAO recommendations are currently open. That includes more than 430 “priority recommendations,” which the watchdog agency says “could save large amounts of money” if implemented.
If the bill becomes law, the GAO will be required to provide Congress with an agenda for reforming federal programs based on its open priority recommendation. GAO would tell Congress how long each recommendation has been open and what taxpayers could save if Congress and agencies implemented them. Congress could use this information as a blueprint to enact bipartisan, good-government reforms.
“Too often, the Federal Government fails to make common sense improvements to the way it operates,” Timmons said, “Our bill is proof positive that non-partisan, good government legislation is still possible.”
With a $24 billion national debt and trillion-dollar annual deficits, cutting government waste alone won’t fix our nation’s serious fiscal challenges. But it’s a good place to start.
Dan Lips is the head of policy at Lincoln Network.