If you pay any attention at all to legislative efforts to address the Postal Service’s financial crisis, you’ll soon hear the phrase, “budget score.” Someone will say that a bill has a high score or a low score. But what is a budget score? What is the score for?
Budget scoring is part of a broader process to keep federal spending in check. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assigns scores to bills to show how they will affect the federal budget deficit. (Unlike most sports, a high budget score is usually considered bad.) Even though Congress placed the Postal Service off budget in 1989 and the Postal Service does not receive federal money for operations, the Postal Service often gets caught up in budget scoring concerns for two reasons: The first is off-budget spending is included in the overall measure of the budget called the unified budget. The second is that the Postal Service is required to pay in funds for pensions and retiree health benefits to certain on-budget accounts.
The OIG described the history of the Postal Service’s entanglements with federal budget concerns in the 2009 white paper, Federal Budget Treatment of the Postal Service. The paper showed how these entanglements stymied the ability to enact postal legislation – even legislation that would return the Postal Service’s overpayments.
In a new paper released today, Budget Enforcement Procedures and the Postal Service, the OIG updates budget events since the 2009 paper and places budget scoring and the federal budget treatment of the Postal Service within the context of the federal budget process.
Most of the Postal Service’s operational spending is off budget and not subject to the federal budget process. The OIG argued in 2009 that the Postal Service’s retiree benefit accounts should also be off budget and disentangled from the federal budget. Until that happens, however, it is important that the Postal Service and its stakeholders understand how the budget process and budget enforcement work. This paper attempts to explain these processes and how they can affect legislation.
What do you think about budget scoring and the Postal Service? Comment below.
This blog is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center.