by Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service
February 04, 2005
The annual budget season produces some of Washington's most creative theatrics, as lawmakers complain about all the pain that would be caused if their favorite federal programs are axed. With the White House putting 150 programs on the chopping block in this year's budget, interest groups are energizing their rank and file to rally behind endangered services.
But the cold, hard facts are that in the last half-century, Congress has closed just one agency - the Interstate Commerce Commission. And the only thing that actually disappeared was the name; the Department of Transportation absorbed the staff, payroll and the ICC's prime real estate along Washington's National Mall.
Among hardy survivors of previous cost-cutting battles: the Commerce Department's National Technical Information Service. President Ronald Reagan was the first to target this World War II relic, which tries to sell government scientific reports that are available today for free via the Internet. It thrives today in the Washington suburbs with 170 employees.
The budget process in Congress is an open joke. In the last two years, lawmakers couldn't agree on a budget resolution that would have limited spending, and so merrily spent on without adopting one. Congress can do that because it makes the rules on how it conducts its own operations.
Meanwhile, the federal debt climbs and climbs. How bad is it? Every newborn in America begins life saddled with $27,847 as his or her share of Uncle Sam's debt.
On the government's most-wanted list for the next two years: More than 37,000 new security- and enforcement-related personnel.
Job opportunities are expanding also for federal flacks, responsible for devising creative ways of explaining to Congress and the public what their agencies are doing. More than 17,000 hot jobs in public affairs or congressional relations are expected to open.
The Interstate highway system turns 50 in 2006, but the highway lobby is fighting to keep the historic label off the nation's thoroughfares.
Federal law says that buildings older than 50 are protected historic structures. The American Road and Transportation Builders Association fears that giving historic protection to interstates will only add valuable ammunition to anti-car groups and preservationists battling new highway projects and expansions.
It already takes an average of 6.4 years to open a new highway. And a report by the Government Accountability Office found that, because of delays, it could take anywhere from nine to 19 years to plan and build a new roadway.
Cupid's ardor may be cooling off a little this year. Retailers are expecting consumers to spend an average of $97.27 on Valentine's Day goodies, down from last year's red-hot $99.24.
Half of the celebrants plan to buy candy, half are planning an evening out. The older set is the most enthusiastic about Valentine's Day spending this year. Younger lovers tell pollsters that they plan to husband their finances.
Consumer alert! "Phishing" is hitting the Top 10 list of Internet frauds, ranking as much of a problem for the vulnerable as Nigerian bank frauds, according to the National Consumers League.
Phishing involves fraudsters sending e-mails to people alerting them that their bank accounts are about to be closed, or their credit cards canceled. The scheme directs consumers to phony bank Web sites, where they are told to submit credit-card numbers or other private information to correct the problem. Banks and credit-card companies say they never use e-mails to contact consumers, but an astonishing number of people have fallen victim to these scams.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com