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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Lawmaker Puts Federal Zombies on Notice

Flickr user Mike Mozart

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., is a zombie hunter.

At least, she’s making full use of the zombie metaphor to push legislation to force Congress to reauthorize federal programs or watch them disappear into the sunset.

Late last week, McMorris Rodgers posted this video on YouTube:

It features spooky music and visuals, and a creepy voiceover:

Here in Washington, D.C. there are zombies living amongst us. The undead continuing to live on long after they were supposed to have vanished from this earth. These zombies are government programs. They’re well past their expiration date, yet Congress still lets them feast on government cash.

McMorris Rodgers borrowed the zombie concept (and, it appears, the voiceover, albeit in an altered state) from CNN’s Jake Tapper, who used the metaphor to characterize unauthorized federal programs in a report last month.

It’s true that billions of dollars in federal spending flows through agencies and programs that haven’t been reauthorized by Congress in years -- decades, in some instances. That includes operations as large as the National Weather Service and the Federal Election Commission.

In a report last year called America’s Most Wasted, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., identified almost $300 billion in spending on what he characterized as  “programs that are no longer authorized to receive funding due to Congress’s persistent unwillingness to pass authorization bills and oversee the spending that follows.”

McMorris Rodgers’ solution to the problem is the Unauthorized Spending Accountability (USA) Act. It would put all unauthorized programs on a path to sunset in three years unless Congress gives them its seal of approval. Under the measure, in the first year after a program expires, it would be subject to a 10 percent sequester. That would rise to 15 percent in the second year. If the program were reauthorized at any point in the three-year cycle, the sequester would be lifted.

Sequester and sunset may be a scary prospect for the federal managers who are responsible for running government’s programs, especially because they’re not to blame for the programs’ zombified state. It’s Congress’s job to periodically examine the operations of government and provide new authority for programs to carry on. Indeed, even without McMorris Rodgers’ bill, nothing is stopping lawmakers from conducting regular oversight and subjecting programs and agencies to reauthorization.

Also, while many large operations have spent a long time in authorization limbo, they’re not exactly the undead. It’s a little odd to characterize the National Weather Service, for example, as a “zombie” that should have “vanished from this earth.” Government’s weather predictors seem very much alive and well -- and in charge of a critical operation virtually every American relies on.

Photo: Flickr user Mike Mozart

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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