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Kingston Eyes Wider Privatization

House Appropriations Cardinal Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said Thursday that his subcommittee has begun discussions about privatizing portions of several legislative branch agencies.

The Georgia lawmaker, who raised the issue during an Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch hearing, acknowledged “staff level” discussions on privatization, but said there are no specific recommendations forthcoming at this time.

During the hearing, Kingston asked General Accounting Office Comptroller General David Walker to rate the efficiency of several legislative branch agencies, and later raised the issue of partial privatization.

“Aren’t there portions of the [Government] Printing Office, or the Architect of the Capitol, or the Library of Congress, portions that could be privatized and farmed out?” asked Kingston, who previously expressed support for privatizing at least part of the Capitol Police Department.

Additionally, Kingston requested GAO to prepare a list of “structural changes” that could be applied to those agencies in preparation for the subcommittee’s eventual markup of the fiscal 2005 legislative branch spending bill.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), the panel’s ranking member, said he would support privatization of the Capitol Power Plant — which is managed by the Architect — but would not back privatization within other legislative branch agencies.

Last week’s hearing was the first held by House Appropriators on the legislative branch agencies for fiscal 2005 budget requests.

The subcommittee’s chairman canceled scheduled hearings in February to demand that the agencies significantly reduce their spending requests.

Legislative branch agencies are seeking a combined $4.4 billion in fiscal 2005, a 12 percent increase from the current fiscal year. [IMGCAP(1)]

Kingston reiterated his concerns at the outset of Thursday’s hearing, stating: “The legislative branch should set an example that we use taxpayers’ money appropriately.”

Moran concurred with Kingston, labeling the branches monetary requests as “over-the-top.”

At the hearing, House Chief Administrative Officer Jay Eagen, House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood and Clerk of the House Jeff Trandahl offered testimony for the $1.1 billion House operations budget request for fiscal 2005 — a 5.7 percent increase from last year.

That figure includes funding for the House officers, as well as leadership and committee offices and Members’ Representational Allowances.

Eagen defended the overall budget proposal, describing most increases as “mandatory.”

In response to inquiries from the panel, however, Eagen cited several reductions that could be made to the CAO’s $121 million budget proposal, a 9.5 percent increase from fiscal 2004.

“We see a number of areas where we can safely trim the request,” Eagen said.

Among the potential reductions, Eagen said $1.5 million could be cut from the appropriations bill by delaying renovations to several House committee rooms. Similarly, reducing the number of desks scheduled for installation through the House modular furniture program, from 650 desktops to 520, would reduce spending by $1.3 million in fiscal 2005.

Another $600,000 marked for the installation of data and telephone wiring in the Capitol Visitor Center could also be removed from the fiscal 2005 bill, Eagen said.

An additional $3 million could be removed from funding for the Alternate Computing Facility, an emergency facility maintained by Congressional agencies.

GAO officials, including Walker, also presented their budget during the hearing.

“I know we’re facing tough budget times and I appreciate that,” Walker told lawmakers in his opening remarks.

The agency is seeking $486 million in its spending request, a 4.9 percent increase from fiscal 2004.

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