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Spending Oversight Thrown Overboard in Stopgaps

While lawmakers are struggling to find ways to affect specific spending directions in continuing resolutions, experts say the use of stopgap bills leaves them losing ground in one major area of responsibility.

The appropriations process is one of the best tools Congress has for oversight, said Robert Shea, a principal at Grant Thornton’s public sector practice and a former congressional and Office of Management and Budget staffer.

Officials at federal agencies pay close attention to demands in spending bills and the accompanying reports, he said, because of the control that appropriators have on their budgets. “Not enough attention is getting paid to what things are working” when the government operates under CRs, Shea said.

For the appropriators, allowing programs to run under long-term CRs marks a loss in influence.

“That’s why these people are going to continue to fight” to get bills into a final fiscal 2014 package, said William Hoagland, a senior vice president at the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center and former longtime Senate aide.

“They got on the Appropriations Committees because they wanted to get things done and they want to influence on policy. It’s got to be terribly frustrating for them,” he said.

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