Trump Budget Finds $0 in Wasteful Pentagon Programs. Are They Kidding?
Policy + Politics

Trump Budget Finds $0 in Wasteful Pentagon Programs. Are They Kidding?

Jason Reed/Reuters

In assembling the budget as proposed on Tuesday, the Trump administration dove deep into the weeds of the executive branch, finding programs that it deems wasteful or unnecessary and targeting them for complete elimination. All told, the budget lists 66 programs that would be either completely zeroed out or would lose the overwhelming majority of their spending authority. In all, the budget claims savings of $26.7 billion from what it refers to as “major discretionary eliminations.”

However, the administration apparently has a significant blind spot when it comes to the Department of Defense, an accounting black hole into which some $639 billion is set to disappear under the president’s budget proposal. While the administration is anxious to eliminate the relatively paltry $13 million dollars the Interior Department spent on the National Wildlife Refuge Fund last year and dug deep into the books at the Labor Department to find an $11 million occupational safety training program to eliminate, it apparently couldn’t find a single redundant or unnecessary program in the entirety of the Department of Defense.

Related: How the Pentagon Cooks the Books to Hide Massive Waste

Of the 15 cabinet-level executive branch departments, the only one other than the Pentagon to escape at least some program eliminations was the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has a budget an order of magnitude smaller than the Defense Department’s.

Here are some of the larger cuts the administration is proposing, the justification given for them, and The Fiscal Times’ reaction.

Agriculture Department

The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program ($201 million): The administration claims that the program, which provides food relief overseas, “is duplicative of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs, lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented, and has unaddressed oversight and performance monitoring challenges.”
TFT Comment: The administration should list the redundant programs.

Rural Water and Waste Disposal Program ($498 million): The program provides funding for water and wastewater treatment facilities in rural areas. The rationale: “The Administration believes that EPA or private sector sources should fund this activity.”
TFT Comment: The administration plans to cut the EPA budget by 31 percent and eliminate about 15,000 jobs. TFT does not believe the agency would have the resources to manage this program, which includes ensuring that animal waste from farms as well as chemical pollution from pesticides and fertilizers do not seep into ground water and aquifers. 

Related: With $8.5 Trillion Unaccounted for, Why Should Congress Increase the Defense Budget?

Commerce Department

Economic Development Administration ($221 million): The administration claims that the program, which provides economic development grants, “is duplicative of other economic development programs within the Federal Government and State and local efforts.”
TFT Comment: The administration should list the redundant programs.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration educational programs ($262 million): Among the sub-programs that would disappear are the Sea Grant, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, Coastal Zone Management Grants, the Office of Education, and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. Per the administration, “These grant and education programs generally support State, local, and/or industry interests, and these entities may choose to continue some of this work with their own funding.”
TFT Comment: Oceanography and Climatography are not merely areas of local interest and certainly not in the interest of industry. Would you want, say, the state of Maine to be responsible for alerting the East Coast to a category 4 hurricane?

Education Department

21st Century Community Learning Centers ($1.16 billion): The program, distributes grants for communities to “establish or expand centers that provide additional student learning opportunities through before- and after-school programs, and summer school programs, aimed at improving student academic outcomes.” It is being eliminated because the department cannot show evidence of its effectiveness “commensurate with an annual investment of more than $1 billion in limited Federal education funds.”
TFT Comment: Studies show that Schools of the 21st Century have in fact improved academic outcomes by allowing the school to adjust to the communities’ workforce. In Vail, for instance, where many parents work at the ski resorts, teachers adjust their schedules to accommodate the parents’ work schedules to keep parents involved in their children’s schooling. Pre-and post-school programs are also designed to serve the community. The idea is based on this success formula: A child can only succeed when the teachers and the parents are involved in the child’s success.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants ($732 million): The program provides “need-based grants to eligible undergraduate students to help reduce financial barriers to postsecondary education.” The program is being shuttered as part of a larger overhaul of how the federal government distributes education aid.
TFT Comment: Demonstrate how need-based graduate students are being helped by the federal government.

Related: Trump’s All Guns, No Butter Budget Is a Bust with Lawmakers

Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants ($277 million): By providing small grants to teachers and schools, the program is meant to promote arts and STEM education programs. It is being eliminated because “the Administration does not believe limited Federal resources should be allocated to a program where many of its grants will likely be too small to have a meaningful impact.”
TFT Comment: Rather than make assumptions that this program doesn’t work, why not allot some of the money to a few different school districts on a pilot program basis to measure the effectiveness of the grants.

Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants ($2.35 billion): The program is meant to help states provide continuing education programs to teachers. The justification: “SEI grants are poorly targeted, and funds are spread too thinly to have a meaningful impact on student outcomes. In addition, there is limited evidence that teacher professional development, a primary activity funded by the program, has led to increases in student achievement.”
TFT Comment: Again, create a pilot program to measure the effectiveness of continuing education programs.

Department of Energy

Advanced Research Projects Agency ($316 million): The ARPA-E program is being eliminated “because the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy technology research and development.”
TFT Comment: That’s like saying only Google or Amazon should make robots. But executives in Silicon Valley will tell you that DARPA is one of their top partners in innovation—a government agency.

Related: Why Trump’s Spending Plan Won’t Really Balance the Budget

Department of Health and Human Services

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality ($333 million): The agency, meant to help improve the quality of health care, is being eliminated because “other agencies also conduct health services research and promote best practices that improve delivery of care and enhance patient safety.”
TFT Comment: The administration should list the redundant programs.

Community Services Block Grant ($714 million): The program, which delivers grants to state and local governments and non-profit organizations, is being eliminated in part “because it constitutes a small portion of the funding these grantees receive, and funds are not directly tied to performance, which limits incentives for innovation.”
TFT Comment: This needs far more explanation before it’s eliminated.

Health Professions and Nursing Training Programs ($403 million): Per the administration: “The Budget eliminates funding for 14 health professions and nurse training programs that provide funds to training institutions to improve the quantity, quality, diversity, and/or distribution of the Nation's health workforce. These programs have been in existence for decades, and most operate under expired authorizations. There is little evidence that these programs significantly improve the Nation's health workforce.”
TFT Comment: The administration should list the redundant programs.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program ($3.38 billion): The LIHEAP program helps poor Americans pay for heat in the winter. The administration, noting there have been problems with people applying for aid fraudulently, says the program is being eliminated “to reduce the size and scope of the Federal Government and better target resources within the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families.
TFT Comment: There is fraud in many programs. Does that mean we should eliminate the program? Find a way to eliminate the fraud, not the program.

Related: 3 Big Changes Trump Wants to Make to Student Loans

Department of Housing and Urban Development

Community Development Block Grant ($2.99 billion): The program supports various social programs, from Meals-on-Wheels to after-school activities to local development projects. It is being eliminated because “the program has not demonstrated results” and because “the Budget recognizes that State and local governments are better positioned to address local community and economic development needs.”
TFT Comment: Does the administration really believe that Meals-on-Wheels isn’t measurable? I guess it could be proved by the negative when a bunch of people die from starvation.

Home Investment Partnerships Program ($948 million): The program funds state and local efforts to develop affordable housing. The administration wants to eliminate it because it is part of “a fragmented system with varying rules and regulations that create overlap and inefficiencies, as well as challenges to measuring collective performance.”
TFT Comment: With real estate ties in the luxury market still apparent in the administration, eliminating this program – especially with the doublespeak justification – doesn’t fly.

Department of Labor

Senior Community Service Employment Program ($434 million): Per the administration: “While the program provides some income support to about 68,000 individuals each year, it fails to meet its other major statutory goals of fostering economic self-sufficiency and moving low-income seniors into unsubsidized employment.”
TFT Comment: So, you’re 70-years old and pounding the pavement to get a job. Whaa?

Department of State

Development Assistance ($2.5 billion): The budget slashes the State Department’s Development Assistance fund, though some of the same assistance, though greatly reduced, will be provided through other elements of the Department. The decision is “consistent with the administration's goals of streamlining foreign assistance and freeing up funding for rebuilding the Nation's military and for pursuing critical priorities here at home.”
TFT Comment: The administration should list the countries that would be cut off from this aid.

Related: The Heartless Tradeoffs in the Trump Budget

P.L. 480 TITLE II FOOD AID ($1.7 billion): The budget would do away with the foreign aid program, which the administration says is “inefficient, slow, and high-cost.” The Budget also notes, “The foreign assistance request retains sufficient funding for emergency food assistance in the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) account, which already provides food aid through the most effective means for each crisis and provides U.S. food commodities where they are the most appropriate emergency response.”
TFT Comment: The administration should list the countries that would be cut off from this aid.

Green Climate Fund and Global Climate Change Initiative ($1.59 billion): The administration wants to eliminate all funds given to United Nations climate change initiatives, and this provision cuts money for several different programs that are supported by both the State and Treasury Departments’ budgets.
TFT Comment: The administration should list the programs that would be eliminated and the countries that already support those initiatives.