Failing the Grade, Part II

Eyeglasses with newspaper and coffee cup

Yesterday, Tea Party Patriots criticized the Department of Education (DoE) for hosting a series of conferences, a campaign-esque bus tour, and other wastes of your tax dollars. These expenditures are particularly egregious because of the complaint by officials at the DoE that a $2.5 billion budget “cut” under sequestration is harming the ability of the Department to conduct its duties.

Ignoring for the moment whether those duties – and the DoE itself – are constitutional, the conferences and other costs add up to a tiny fraction of sequestration’s effect on the Department. They are however, emblematic of a federal bureaucracy that cannot prioritize its spending.

It is common for bureaucracies in Washington to act as though sequestration is a major cut in spending. This year’s $85 billion hit is less than 2.5% of the 2012 federal budget – a budget that has grown dramatically over the last dozen years. The same story holds true for the DoE’s budget. Consider the following:

The DoE’s functional budget – which gets approved by Congress every year – has gone from $35.6 billion in 2000 to $68.35 billion in 2011. These numbers, which are adjusted for inflation, represent a real growth of 92% over 12 years. This does not include nearly $100 billion in stimulus funding that was approved in 2009 and distributed throughout 2009 and 2010.

In other words, the DoE’s baseline budget nearly doubled between 2000 and 2011, not including stimulus dollars.

How deep is this $2.5 billion “cut” the DoE is complaining about? After a 92% growth from 2000 to 2011, the Department is seeing a 3.7% decrease in funding in 2013 compared to the 2011 budget (numbers for 2012 spending are not yet available). It’s a 7.6% “cut” from the baseline budget differences between 2000 and 2011.

Only in Washington is a “cut” of 3.7% after over a decade of tremendous growth considered a hardship. Outside the Beltway bubble, the median household income fell 8.4% from February 2000 to February 2013.

Sorry, Department of Education. Your complaint doesn’t make the grade.