GAO details the high cost of continuing resolutions

It may be hard for Congress to agree on a budget, but not doing so leads to reduced effectiveness and added expenses.

money on fire

The Government Accountability Office warned senators March 13 that continuing resolutions force agency officials to divert funding from priority objectives, delay work and even lessen the quality of services -- problems observed repeatedly in the course of nearly three decades of CRs.

In past reviews, GAO found agencies deferring hiring and training, limiting how well they can inspect surveillance equipment, food and other items. Agencies struggle to oversee work to the same degree and accomplish less work under a CR because budgets are unknown.

On the procurement side, agency officials delay contracts, which affects their ability to fully compete and award them, and agencies end up cramming more acquisition work into a shorter period of time.

"Agency officials reported taking varied actions to manage inefficiencies resulting from CRs, including shifting contract and grant cycles to later in the fiscal year to avoid repetitive work," Michelle Sager, director of strategic issues at GAO, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The committee was looking into issues related to the current budget crisis as the Senate debates the passage of another CR to fund the remainder of fiscal 2013. The House passed similar legislation March 6. The current CR expires March 27.

CRs are hardly new, of course. In all but three of the past 30 years, GAO said Congress has used CRs to provide funding until it passed final appropriations bills. Yet both the frequency and duration of those stopgap funding measures have grown in recent years, exacerbating problems for agency officials.

"Our failure in this area has likely made our government less effective and more costly for taxpayers," said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee’s chairman. "It has also degraded federal employee morale, created harmful ripple effects for state and local governments, and hindered efforts to help our nation’s economy as it recovers from one of the worst economic recessions in our history."

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