Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has been quick to criticize President Trump and congressional Republicans for sins against transparency in recent months. Yet, when Schumer had an opportunity to help pass a bipartisan transparency bill last week, he refused.
The bill in question is the Taxpayers Right to Know Act sponsored by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. It would require federal agencies to post an inventory of their programs. This inventory would detail how much programs cost, how many employees are required to run them, who the intended beneficiaries are, and how effective they have been.
It’s a good-government bill that combines transparency with performance metrics to try to find out what is working well and what isn’t. The bill’s bipartisan backers believe taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent so they can hold their elected officials accountable.
The bill was such a no-brainer, noncontroversial step forward in the transparency movement that it passed the House of Representatives several times without a single member voting against it. Everyone from the House Progressives to the conservative House Freedom Caucus supports the legislation.
Still, Schumer objected on April 25 because he has a “serious objection with the reporting requirements.” According to Schumer, reporting on programs, costs, and performance are the “types of questions [that] could fill up volumes and volumes. There’s no good answers to them. There’s no clear answer to them. This law will not make it any easier to discern what programs are working and what programs are not.”
Then, he got to the real issue when he added that revealing this information could lead to the “slashing of programs.”
Imagine that: Taxpayers discovering the programs they are paying for aren’t working and then asking Congress to eliminate them or reduce funding. The horror.
Schumer’s “objection” is itself an acknowledgment that there will be a strong case to eliminate or consolidate many federal programs if their existence, costs, and results are made public. Transparency and performance metrics are an existential threat to failing federal programs.
While Schumer referred to conservative Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as a bogeyman, Senate Democratic leadership has been objecting to this same measure ever since the Obama years. Former Senate Majority Leader Reid, D-Nev., objected to the legislation in 2013, and the bill was blocked again in 2016 – all when Obama would have been the one enforcing it.
Moreover, as was pointed out by Sen. McCaskill, there is nothing in the bill that would provide the administration any additional power to cut funding. In fact, it explicitly states that it will not. Schumer’s objection is about preventing transparency, regardless of who occupies the White House.
The bill also has the support of Government Accountability Office Comptroller Gene DoDaro. GAO’s eighth edition of its duplication report came out this week. Since its inception in 2011, the annual GAO report has made 727 recommendations that have led to $187 billion in taxpayer savings. But GAO does not have enough information to fully leverage their agency’s skills. Dodora recently testified that “one of the limitations we have had when doing that overlap and duplication work is the lack of cost information, budgetary information for many of these programs. Once you get the list, that is really the next thing that needs to be put in place.”
The Taxpayers Right to Know Act would give GAO and Congress the information and tools for a more effective and efficient government. Doing so would yield enormous benefits to taxpayers and beneficiaries alike.
The bill also has the support of President Obama’s OMB controller David Mader, who said the Taxpayer Right to Know Act is the next step in better usage of government data. Explaining its merits, he says “I think as taxpayers, as the executive branch, as part of the congressional branch, all of those stakeholders and all of us as taxpayers want to know are our tax dollars actually being spent and achieving the results that we expect.”
Everyone that is, except Sen. Schumer.
Sadly, improved reporting on the transparency and performance of taxpayer dollars will have to wait. But taxpayers have at least discovered the transparent motive of Schumer. The drive to have a better government is a threat to those who just want a bigger government.