Appropriators, Obama agree on program terminations

The Education Department’s Student Mentoring Program is on the chopping block. The Education Department’s Student Mentoring Program is on the chopping block.

House and Senate appropriators plan to ax 11 of the 48 discretionary, nonmilitary programs targeted for termination earlier this year by President Obama, according to an analysis of fiscal 2010 budget documents and appropriations bills.

Appropriators' relatively low degree of compliance with Obama's requests, which amounts to ending about 23 percent of the programs he sought to kill, highlights the tension between the president's desire to cut federal spending and Congress' penchant to consistently fund programs they deem a priority.

In the case of the remaining 37 nondefense discretionary programs, House or Senate appropriators, or both, recommended maintaining funding. To date, the House has cleared all 12 annual spending bills and the Senate has completed four.

Once both houses adopt their respective versions of the bills, they will reconcile any differences in conference. That would provide another opportunity to cut additional programs.

"The game isn't over until the bills are written," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan interest group. "It's up to the administration to keep [Congress'] feet to the fire."

In May Obama released a hit list of 121 programs, mandatory and discretionary, that he recommended be terminated or cut, with a total savings of $17 billion. About half of the savings would come from defense programs and almost $12 billion would come from discretionary spending.

Proposed cuts in the defense budget include terminating the F-22 fighter program, which received $2.9 billion in fiscal 2009. The House has agreed to the cut, but the Senate Appropriations Committee has not taken up its Defense Appropriations bill.

Of the 11 programs on the chopping block, the most money would be saved by cutting the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities State Grant program, which received $295 million in fiscal 2009. It is administered by the Education Department.

The program provides formula funds intended to help create and maintain drug-free, safe, and orderly environments for learning in and around schools. But the administration -- citing a 2001 Rand Drug Policy Research Center study and a 2007 assessment by the program's advisory committee - contends the program is poorly designed.

"The program does not focus on the schools most in need and the thin distribution of funding prevents many local administrators from designing and implementing meaningful interventions," the White House said in its budget.

Schools would be better served if the federal government instead provided competitive grants to concentrate a greater amount of funding to school districts with a demonstrated need, the White House said. The House and Senate Appropriations committees agreed with the White House's assessment and provided no funding for it.

Cancellation of another Education Department program, the Student Mentoring Program, would save $47 million, the amount it received in fiscal 2009.

"In March 2009, the Department's Institute of Education Sciences completed a rigorous multi-year evaluation, which found this program to be ineffective," the House Appropriations Committee said in its fiscal 2010 Labor-HHS spending bill, which was approved by the full House last month.

Cutting the Labor Department's Work Incentive Grants would save $17 million, which was what Congress provided in fiscal 2009.

Obama also sought to cut the Energy Department's Reliable Replacement Warhead program. Congress did not fund the program in fiscal 2009 and plans to agree to Obama's request for fiscal 2010.

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