“Everyone seems to agree that the federal budget process is broken,” said Senior Fellow Alice Rivlin at a recent Brookings event, “but there’s not much agreement on what that means or what ought to be done about it.” Rivlin made these remarks during a discussion hosted by the Center for Effective Public Management at Brookings on reforming the budget process—an event that featured three former Congressional Budget Office (CBO) directors.
Rivlin, who was the founding CBO director in 1975, presented findings and policy recommendations from her recent report, co-authored with former Senator Pete Domenici and published by the Bipartisan Policy Center, “Proposal for Improving the Congressional Budget Process” (pdf). Following Rivlin’s remarks, Governance Studies Fellow Molly Reynolds moderated a lively panel discussion.
Rivlin enumerated the basic ingredients of fixing the federal budget process, including:
- Have an orderly process that the participants understand and respect
- Keep it simple and not time consuming
- Ensure that the public understands the process and feels effectively represented in it
- Have a defined beginning and end, and finish on schedule (the people charged with getting the work done have jobs to do)
- Plan ahead to avoid surprise costs that could have been anticipated
- Have reasonable stability so that organizations are not lurching to respond to constantly changing priorities
- Have flexibility to allow participants to respond to changing circumstances, needs, and values
Watch Rivlin expand on each of these essential ideas:
“The fundamental problem,” Rivlin asserted, “is that our political system is broken because we’ve forgotten that our Constitution requires compromise and negotiation to move the country forward on any contentious decision.“
“Isn’t so much the polarization that afflicts us; it’s abandonment of efforts to compromise across divisions.”
Visit the event’s web page to watch the entire event, including Rivlin’s description of three principles for budget reform that are explored her Bipartisan Policy Center’s report.