Committee Continues Long Overdue Oversight of Federal Spending - Seeks Answers on $2 Trillion in Unspent Funding

October 25, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - In the ongoing effort to conduct oversight of federal spending, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is continuing its examination of four government agencies and their efforts to implement the president's pledge to conduct a "page by page, line by line" review of the federal budget to cut obsolete programs and eliminate wasteful or unnecessary spending. Recent testimony provided by the federal government's accounting arm (the Government Accountability Office, or GAO) to the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee revealed nearly $2 trillion in funding set aside from prior budgets has, in fact, yet to be spent.
 
All 31 GOP members of the committee signed letters addressed to the Commerce Department, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Health and Human Services requesting an explanation for the billions of dollars in unspent funds within their respective agencies. The information committee members are seeking is crucial as each government agency will deliver its annual budget request early next year.  It has become common for agencies to put forth annual budgets without a detailed disclosure of how much federal funding remains from prior appropriations.

The committee's review includes both obligated and unobligated balances. Obligated funding may have been assigned to a particular project, but the dollars have not actually been spent. Unobligated funding may be unspent appropriations or funding that was previously obligated but left over from a completed initiative and carried forward to be re-obligated at a later date. In these four agencies alone, there are billions of dollars in unobligated balances, meaning taxpayer dollars are recorded on the government balance sheet waiting to be spent as an agency chooses. Understanding the role of outstanding obligations appropriated in prior years will help in identifying opportunities to cut spending.

The Committee members wrote the four agencies, "At the October 12, 2011, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing entitled "˜Cutting EPA Spending,' David C. Trimble, Director for Natural Resources and Environment at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), observed that not all agencies, including EPA, are providing information in their budget justification documents on funds from appropriations in prior years that were not expended and are available for new obligations. GAO concluded that "˜such information could be useful to Congress because these funds could partially offset the need for new funding.' We seek a better understanding of the role unliquidated obligations appropriated in prior years may play in identifying opportunities to reduce new appropriations. Total unexpended balances across the federal government are estimated to exceed two trillion dollars at the end of FY 2012."

According to the Office of Management and Budget's FY 2012 "Balances of Budget Authority," at the end of FY 2010:

Commerce had over $12 billion in obligated balances carried forward, as well as over $12 billion in unobligated balances carried forward.

DOE had over $47 billion in obligated balances carried forward, as well as over $8 billion in unobligated balances carried forward.

EPA had over $13 billion in obligated balances carried forward, as well as over $4 billion in unobligated balances carried forward.

HHS had over $175 billion in obligated balances carried forward, as well as over $51 billion in unobligated balances carried forward.

Setting a November 3, 2011, deadline, the members are asking each of the four agencies for a complete, detailed list of programs and other expenditures.  The members have requested whether the billions of dollars in question remain unobligated, have been obligated, or have been obligated but not spent; the letters also request the level of unspent balances that have been carried forward into FY 2012.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has been investigating the efforts by the Obama administration to cut spending. Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) previously sent letters September 15, 2011, to Commerce, DOE, EPA, HHS, and OMB seeking information about their involvement in the federal budget review.  The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee is conducting a hearing series on the President's line-by-line budget review, first examining OMB's role on October 5, 2011, and also looking into cutting EPA spending on October 12, 2011. Additional hearings will soon be announced.

View copies of the letters to the Commerce Department, DOE, EPA, and HHS HERE.