Posted by: Debby Durkee | February 15, 2011

Fed’s unspent billions?

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Fed’s unspent billions?

While we’re all gulping at the ridiculous budget our current president just sent to Congress yesterday, Deroy Murdoch has been speaking with Senator Tom Coburn, who says there are over $700 billion in “unobligated” funds sitting in federal agencies. He suggests using that to drive down the size of the federal budget. This is from National Review Online.

…congressional Republicans struggle to find $100 billion in budget cuts, even though their promise to do so fueled their historic election victories last November…

Meanwhile, more than $700 billion gathers dust in accounts all around Washington.

That’s right. An arcane budgetary category called “unobligated funds” includes money that Congress has appropriated for agencies and programs in every corner of the federal government. When that money goes unspent, it just sits there — like an ancient wooden chest on a Caribbean island, just waiting to be pried open.

Senator Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) holds the treasure map. He and his team cite an Office of Management and Budget document with the riveting title “Balances of Budget Authority — Budget of the U.S. Government — Fiscal Year 2011.”

On page 8, Table 1 indicates in black and white that this fiscal year’s federal budget contains $703,128,000,000 in “unobligated balances.” Thus, more than $703 billion languishes on department, agency, and program ledgers. This includes $12.2 billion unspent at the Agriculture Department, $16.4 billion at Labor, $25.2 billion at Housing and Urban Development, $71.4 billion at Defense, and $309.1 billion at Treasury.

While unspent obligated money must be stewarded for specific purposes for up to five years, these unobligated funds “have not yet been committed by contract or other legally binding action by the government,” OMB explains… if only 20 percent of these funds could be liberated, then some $140.6 billion could be redirected immediately to reduce the deficit, freeze the national debt limit, or cut the corporate tax, and thus fortify America’s anemic economy.

In fact, Senator Coburn’s office estimates that $82.4 billion of these funds are between six and 20 years old! You read correctly: At this very second, the federal budget contains $82.4 billion that has hibernated in numerous accounts between FY 1991 and FY 2005…

Team Coburn reckons that at least $100 billion of these unobligated funds safely could be applied to budget reduction…

“Congress is approving increases in government funding faster than bureaucrats can spend it!” Senator Coburn told colleagues in January 2010. “While it is laudable that government bureaucrats are not spending every dollar that they are entrusted, this staggering amount of unspent money exposes the mismanagement of our national finances by Congress.”

Capitol Hill oversight committees should ask cabinet secretaries and agency heads a simple question: How much of the unobligated money on their books do they urgently need for vital public purposes, and how much can they relinquish at once for the overriding greater good…

I say, don’t ask them. Tell them to fork the money over. If it is “unobligated” what is it really, a slush fund? Some serious accounting needs to take place at every government agency. We could take a chunk out of our federal budget really quickly. No one on Capitol Hill seems to want to fight for what’s right, so I won’t hold my breath. Read it all here:


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