Cutting Federal Spending: One Federal Agency Targeted in Congress for Extinction

It isn’t often that a federal agency is eliminated but it does happen. One small agency is not on a political hot seat and may be voted out of existence.

With the federal deficit spiraling, elected officials are looking for ways to cut back on spending. Federal employees are certainly aware of this as their pay is frozen to some extent and there are various proposals to cut back on the cost of the federal workforce by putting more restrictions on benefits, including retirement.

It is rare that a federal agency, once created, ever goes out of existence. When major problems surface about agency performance, the agency often asks for—and sometimes gets—additional money based on the argument that it would have done a better job with more funding.

But eliminating an entire agency does occasionally happen, especially if it is small and does not have a large constituency and is not that well known or very popular throughout the country. One small agency is now facing elimination: the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Not to be confused with the Federal Election Commission, the EAC is supposed to assist state officials with election funding and data collection.

A bill in Congress, HR 672, would eliminate the agency. The bill would amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 by terminating the agency, the EAC Standards Board, and the EAC Board of Advisors. It would also require the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to perform EAC functions for some existing contracts and agreements while the agency is closed down.

Maryland Congressman and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer defends the agency stating that “The EAC has created a comprehensive program to test state voting systems for accuracy—and use of this program has been shown to save our states millions of dollars and up to 12 months of testing time.”

The agency has well-paid employees with an average salary of $110,093. Eliminating the agency would save about $33 million over the next five years.

The Committee on House Administration has a different view of the agency than Congressman Hoyer.  It cites the following problems:

  • The agency spends over 50% of its budget on administrative costs. Its budget request for 2012 devoted 51.7% of its budget to management and overhead costs, meaning the agency would use $5,406,718 to manage programs totaling $3,486,601.
  • Its election research function is obsolete as it has completed 4 of the 5 federally mandated election studies. The one outstanding study is six years overdue and mired in interagency controversy.
  • The Agency has allocated all of its remaining election grants and zeroed out its requests for additional grant funds in its last three annual budget requests.
  • Since 2005, the year Congress originally intended to sunset the EAC, the agency has more than doubled in size while its programs continue to decline.
  • The National Association of Secretaries of State – the direct beneficiaries of the agency’s dwindling services – has passed two resolutions calling for the EAC’s dissolution.

Despite its problems and the amount of money it spends, the agency may well survive a vote on the bill as early as today. Many House Democrats continue to support the agency in the belief that it will help the country have more uniform election procedures and few problems in conducting elections.

Republicans will need more than 40 Democrats to support the bill for it to pass. And, in the toxic political climate, that may not happen and is probably unlikely that the agency will meet its bureaucratic demise.

But, with the federal deficit setting new records, the EAC may be one of the very few federal agencies in recent history to be voted out of existence.

Update: The House rejected the bill on Wednesday afternoon

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47