No way to do business

Otto von Bismarck's famous comment that laws are like sausages and it is better not to see either being made somehow seems all too appropriate this year.

Lawmakers recently passed a massive omnibus $388 billion spending bill that covers scores of agencies: the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, State, Energy, Interior, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and the legislative branch.

The bill's physical size, measuring about 14 inches thick, is almost as massive as its scope. The process by which it was drafted and passed could stand some scrutiny, however distasteful that may be.

Agency officials are often called to Capitol Hill and flogged for failing to accomplish an assigned task. They are told that the government does not measure up to the private sector. But no organization would be successful if it had a funding process as Byzantine as the one used to keep the government running.

A case in point: How often does an agency's appropriations bill get passed before the authorization bill is approved? We are not experts in the budget process, but if the authorization bill is so often bypassed, is it necessary? Furthermore, should the budget process be so complex that most people cannot begin to understand it?

These concerns are not new nor are they unknown to anybody who has watched the process work — or not work, as the case may be. Perhaps it is time to assess whether the existing process can be fixed or should be overhauled instead.

In the end, it comes down to accountability. Congress cannot hold agency officials accountable for how they spend taxpayers' money if the budget process does not provide the necessary controls to identify and eliminate waste.

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