Budget slates education, health programs for hefty cutbacks
Education and health programs were top targets for termination or steep cuts in President Bush's fiscal 2008 budget, according to details unveiled this week.
Of 141 discretionary programs Bush recommended ending or scaling back significantly to save about $12 billion, 46 are run by the Education Department and 19 by the Health and Human Services Department. Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman spoke about the requests in broad terms earlier this week, explaining that programs that aren't a high priority or are ineffective would be subject to cuts.
According to a list later released by OMB, proposed cuts in Education initiatives would yield about $3.1 billion in savings over the spending levels Congress is set to approve for this fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, 2006. The bulk of that would result from ending programs, such as the Even Start family literacy program, completely.
The HHS cuts would free up about $2.3 billion, most of which would come from decreases in funding, rather than terminations, in areas such as social service block grants for states and rural health initiatives.
The Housing and Urban Development Department escaped with just three programs slated for termination and two for sharp cuts, but the dollar values involved were high. If enacted, the suggestions would yield $2 billion in savings. Programs targeted included Community Development Block Grants and the HOPE VI program for revitalizing public housing in severe need of repairs.
The Agriculture Department also figured prominently on the list, with 10 programs slashed completely for $573 million in savings and 12 recommended for substantial cut-backs, saving $358 million.
The OMB document did not say how many of the proposed cutbacks were linked to poor program performance. It noted that the administration has now evaluated 977, or 96 percent, of discretionary programs using its Program Assessment Rating Tool. Only 3 percent of those programs earned ratings of "ineffective," while 22 percent could not prove themselves one way or another and the remaining three-quarters were at least adequate.
Many of the programs on OMB's hit list for fiscal 2008 had been there previous years, but lawmakers spared them. In an introduction to the latest list of proposed cuts, OMB officials noted that Congress at least partly accepted 89 of 154 proposals for reductions in fiscal 2006, for savings of $6.5 billion.
Congress has yet to finish the catch-all spending bill that will fund agencies other than the Homeland Security and Defense departments through the end of this fiscal year. But in a policy statement on that measure, which passed the House late last month and is now before the Senate, administration officials expressed disappointment that lawmakers failed to follow suggestions for cuts.
Bush's fiscal 2007 budget also recommended ending or scaling back 141 programs, for a savings of $15 billion, the policy statement noted. "The House's approach ignores the savings from these proposals," officials wrote.
As an example, OMB noted that the spending resolution would continue to fund subsidies for oil and gas research and development the administration has opposed. Such research is again on the administration's list of cuts for fiscal 2008.