It’s hard getting good numbers about what the government spends. Part of the reason is that the government doesn’t have an official organization chart. How are you going to know where the money goes if you don’t know how you’re organized?
But there are other reasons, and they’re on display in the cost estimate for H.R. 3381, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014.
Here at WashingtonWatch.com, we primarily use reports from the Congressional Budget Office for producing our cost estimates. CBO takes the gross amount of spending authorized by a bill and estimates how much will actually be spent over time. Authorization to appropriate $601 million in a given year, for example, might result in $595 million being spent over five years. Usually, the bulk gets spent in the first year, and then a decreasing amount over the ensuing years. CBO estimates usually only go out five years, though some go ten.
There have been estimates of government spending in this area for many years, and the government has released overall estimates of spending on intelligence activities since 2007. This year information on the so-called “black budget” was leaked. The intelligence budget for fiscal year 2013 was $52.6 billion. That’s a little over $500 per U.S. family, $165 per person in the United States.
The CBO does provide estimates for the unclassified sections of the bill, such as the “Intelligence Community Management Account.” That’s spending on coordination, overseeing budgets, and managing the intelligence agencies. The bill for that is $601 million, producing $400 million in spending in fiscal 2014 and $195 million in the four years after that.
The Central Intelligence Agency Retirement and Disability System is another part of the bill that the CBO can estimate, but take a look at what they do here: “[B]ecause the authorization is the same amount as the CBO baseline, CBO does not ascribe any additional cost to that provision relative to the baseline.”
Many programs in the federal government are accounted for using the assumption that spending on them will rise—they have a “rising baseline.” So even if the number of dollars spent on the program increases from one year to the next, the CBO will report no change. It will report a cost only if a bill increases spending beyond the increase that CBO already assumed! That’s one of the wackiest parts of government accounting, and something of an insult to the millions of Americans who can’t assume a “rising baseline” in their budgets.
Because CBO told us what the increase in the baseline is, we’ve added that to our estimate of the costs for H.R. 3381. The Intelligence Community Management Account and the Central Intelligence Agency Retirement and Disability System cost about $10 per U.S. family. The other $490 in spending is classified.