House panels find billions in federal waste

House committees have identified between $80 billion and $100 billion in wasteful federal spending, and House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, said he thinks that is just the beginning.

Nussle, who Thursday released findings of a two-month inquiry into government waste, fraud and abuse, called the inquiry required by the fiscal 2004 budget resolution, "just an update of a very long journey."

The budget resolution requested that congressional committees detail areas of waste in the mandatory programs that fall under their jurisdiction, and Nussle originally estimated that the committees would find $150 billion in government waste over a 10-year period. "The bad news is that there is still an outrageous amount of waste in federal government programs," he said. "What's probably more incredible is that once we took a closer look at these committee reports ... it's pretty clear that we've barely scratched the surface."

Nussle noted several GAO and CBO reports that identify more wasteful spending not mentioned in the committees' reports. One example is a CBO report on a Medicaid program that reimburses states twice for the same administrative services. CBO estimates eliminating the double payments could save $3.7 billion over 10 years.

Other recent CBO findings have suggested $15.5 billion could be saved over 10 years by streamlining the process for reimbursing healthcare providers, and $330 million could be saved by eliminating fraud in the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Nussle expects to address the programs highlighted as having excessive waste in the fiscal 2005 budget resolution, with the full support of the Bush administration.

Nussle also noted that not all committees were exhaustive. "Some committees could have dug a little bit deeper," said Nussle, citing the instance of the House Agriculture Committee, which did not evaluate the food stamp program.

Nussle also recognized the role of freshman Republican members in the evaluation process. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, is a co-founder of the coalition called Washington Waste Watchers that will focus on government excess. "It's not how much money Washington spends, it's how Washington spends the money," he said. The group includes GOP Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite, Mario Diaz-Balart and Tom Feeney, all of Florida; Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Scott Garrett of New Jersey.

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