As any dietician will attest, starving the body of vital nutrients in an effort to slim down is a recipe for failure. The same is true for federal government programs and services.
Unfortunately, lawmakers have been imposing a starvation diet on the federal government for so long that many programs are on life support, leaving Americans malnourished -- literally and figuratively.
President Obama's fiscal-year 2015 budget, unveiled today, would put many agencies on the road to recovery with targeted funding increases for things like renovating veterans' hospitals, restoring our national parks, and modernizing our national airspace system.
To get there, Congress must concede that investing in our people, our communities and our futures is the only prescription to economic prosperity. Unless that happens, I'm afraid we're going to be facing yet another year of painful budget cuts, the continued deterioration of important services, and inadequate funding for infrastructure investments.
The Environmental Protection Agency, long a target of those in Congress who oppose protecting the public from health and environmental hazards, has been hit especially hard by austerity. The EPA's budget has been slashed 22-percent in just the past four years, while its workforce has been cut by more than 10 percent during the past decade.
These cuts aren't just numbers in a budget. Without enough funding, EPA can't fulfill its mission to ensure the safety of our air, water, food and communities.
In light of these staggering budget cuts, EPA says it will have to cut its inspections and enforcement actions in half over the next five years.
The outlook for the National Institutes of Health isn't much better. The agency's budget for this fiscal year was touted as a $1-billion increase, yet it's actually 2.5-percent below last year's enacted budget before sequestration went into effect. When adjusted for inflation, NIH's current budget is at its lowest level since the first year of President George W. Bush's administration.
The first year of sequestration hit NIH like an epidemic. The agency issued 640 fewer competitive research grants in 2013 because of the automatic budget cuts and accepted 750 fewer admissions to its Clinical Center for testing new treatments and medications.
This research is vital in our efforts to fight cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, influenza and other conditions. Less money means less research, and less research means more pain and suffering for millions of Americans.
One area that would seem like a no-brainer for additional funding is job-training programs. With millions of Americans still out of work, investing in programs to help the unemployed acquire new skills and training certainly would be money well spent.
Yet the Labor Department's Training and Employment Services has seen its budget cut by more than 30 percent since 2010. In the name of austerity, Congress is denying funds to a program whose chief goal is to reduce unemployment and develop a more productive workforce.
That's like going to the doctor to treat a sprained finger, only to come out with an amputated arm.
Here is our prescription to get America on a healthy track:
- Invest in the growing backlog of public-works projects that will create millions of new jobs while improving our communities.
- Stop the destructive and costly practice of outsourcing federal jobs to private contractors whose main goal is turning a profit, not serving the taxpayer.
- Raise the minimum wage so that anyone who puts in an honest day's work doesn't have to live in poverty.
- Reform the tax system so that the wealthiest 1 percent pay at least as much in taxes as everyone else, and so that corporations can't exploit loopholes to avoid paying income taxes.
- Provide agencies with sufficient budgets to deliver the programs and services that American taxpayers expect and deserve.
J. David Cox Sr. is national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 670,000 federal and D.C. government employees nationwide.