Government programs cost money. But the systems we’ve got for government oversight don’t make it terribly easy to follow the green thread.
A number of bills getting cost estimates in the last week help illustrate how taxpayer money is spent, though, so let’s review.
The annual budgeting and spending process goes on year over year (“appropriations”), but a different batch of laws establishes the legal authority for agencies’ existence and powers in the first place. Those laws also establish the government’s power to expend funds in support of agencies. This is called “authorization.”
Three authorization bills got cost estimates last week for different parts of the U.S. government. Getting a look at them can help you understand how much you pay for federal agencies.
H.R. 1735 is called the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. It authorize appropriations totaling about $605.3 billion for FY 2016 for the military functions of the Department of Defense, certain activities of the Department of Energy, and a few other purposes. Separately, those funds will be appropriated, or spent, in the Department of Defense appropriations bill. This is the legal authority for the spending.
Here at WashingtonWatch.com, we take government estimates of the actual outlays that will occur each year under authorizations and calculate how much each American family would have to put in the bank to fund this spending. This “net present value” calculation finds the cost of H.R. 1735 to be about $5,400 per U.S. family.
Now you’re better positioned to decide whether military spending is too low, too high, or just right. Let your member of Congress and senators know how you feel—and your friends and neighbors, too. It’s all part of your civic duty.
Here is the current vote on H.R. 1735. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.
Now, how about NASA?
H.R. 2039 is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017. As you might guess, it allows for spending on NASA in the next two fiscal years—$18.5 billion in 2016 and $18.8 billion in 2017. That means spending of about $330 per U.S. family.
Worth it? Want more? Want less?
Here is the current vote on H.R. 2039. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.
Finally, let’s look at the Coast Guard.
H.R. 1987 is the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015. It authorizes appropriations totaling $17.5 billion for operations of the United States Coast Guard and the Federal Maritime Commission over the 2016-2017 period. $150 per U.S. family.
Here is the current vote on H.R. 1987. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.
Not every agency of the U.S. government gets reauthorized every year, and sometimes there are appropriations without authorization, which is one of many forms of congressional mismanagement.
But when Congress is doing its job, it gives you a chance to see particulars of how government programs cost money.