One-click access to a list of agencies and programs that have expired and need congressional attention.
Arguably one of Congress’ most important responsibilities—if not the most important—is the power of the purse. Article 1, Section 7 states that “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.” This responsibility takes the form of appropriating money, as well as authorizing and reauthorizing federal programs. The reauthorization process facilitates congressional oversight by requiring Members of Congress to review federal programs they have previously authorized and provided funding for. Congress has a responsibility to make sure these programs are working as intended to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent efficiently and appropriately.
Yet, over the last few decades, Congress has increasingly failed to reauthorize federal agencies and programs. For example, the State Department has not been reauthorized since Fiscal Year 2003—a key responsibility of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees. Not only has this lack of reauthorization decreased congressional input in the foreign relations process, but it has created confusion for the State Department who are unable to plan without consistent budgetary and regulatory guidance. Overall, these “zombie” programs account for around $310 billion in government spending according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Without the reauthorization process operating as it should, Congress is too often providing appropriations without adequate oversight, ceding its Article I power and responsibilities. Management of wide expanses of the federal government has shifted to the executive branch, and many programs and departments operate on autopilot without meaningful congressional input. Not only does this lack of oversight invalidate powers under Article 1 of the Constitution, but it severely limits the ability of the American people to see how their tax dollars are being spent. For Congress and government as a whole to be truly transparent, reforms must address the decline in authorization and reauthorization that permeates congressional appropriating.
However, there are immense roadblocks facing congressional authorizers. For one, the size and scope of the federal government has ballooned over the past few decades. As the jurisdiction of federal regulation has grown, so has the federal workforce and operations. Federal agency spending is on a consistent uphill climb, totaling trillions of dollars every year. In addition to the massive scope of federal agencies, there is substantial variation in reauthorization deadlines and committee jurisdiction.
But this is no reason for Congress to shirk its Constitutional responsibilities. Therefore, the Committee recommends streamlining information about reauthorizations by creating a one-stop shop for agency and program reauthorization deadlines. This information should be public for Members, staff, and constituents, and should provide easy-to-access information about the current status of executive branch programs and the Committees that are responsible for authorizing those programs.
Congress should collect this information in an easily digestible format to not only help committees meet their reauthorization deadlines but provide the public with clear information on how their tax dollars are being spent. Committee Members should use this resource to structure the reauthorization process, an endeavor that could help Congress return to a timely appropriations process. And the American public should be comfortable accessing this information, not only so they can hold their representatives accountable, but so they can perform their own, individual oversight on the federal government.