Earlier this year, Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Agency Accountability Act of 2017 (H.R. 850 & S. 299). This legislation would restore Congress' power of the purse found in Article I of the Constitution over unelected federal bureaucrats by requiring "any agency that receives a fee, fine, penalty, or proceeds from a settlement" to "deposit such amount in the general fund of the Treasury."
Under current law, federal agencies that confiscate taxpayer dollars through fines, fees and proceeds from legal settlements—such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Financial Stability Oversight Council—may repurpose those dollars as they see fit. The Agency Accountability Act would subject this revenue to the regular appropriations process and empower lawmakers, not federal bureaucrats, to determine how best to allocate scarce resources.
Justin Bogie, The Heritage Foundation's Senior Policy Analyst in Fiscal Affairs, explains:
"Under current law, agencies have the ability to use funds received through fines, fees, and proceeds from legal settlements without going through the formal appropriations process, thus avoiding congressional oversight.
"The Agency Accountability Act seeks to correct this problem by requiring that (with limited exceptions) any fees, fines, penalties, or proceeds from a legal settlement be deposited into the Treasury's general fund. The funds would then be available to the respective agencies, but only through the formal appropriations process."
This legislation restores power back to Congress to make funding decisions. It also increases transparency within federal agencies by shining a light on the amount of revenue raised from agency fees and penalties, and the source of that revenue. Bogie continues:
"According to a report from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, agencies collected $83 billion in fines between fiscal years 2010 and 2015. The committee found that the amount of power given to agencies to pursue penalties and legal settlements allows them to act as both judge and jury.
"By forcing agencies to return these revenues to the Treasury's general fund before they are appropriated back to the agencies, Congress would be able to fully account for how much revenue these agencies collect and what sources they collect from."
Under this legislation, lawmakers would also have the option of keeping this revenue in the general fund for the purpose of deficit reduction. In fiscal year 2015 alone, agencies collected $516 billion through a wide array of user fees.
The Agency Accountability Act is a win for lawmakers who want to reclaim their rightful power of the purse and for those who care about fiscal sustainability and the negative economic effects of our growing national debt. With nearly two-thirds of the annual federal budget already consisting of "auto-pilot" mandatory spending, Congress should use this opportunity to pass the Agency Accountability Act and take back the power of the purse.
***Heritage Action supports the legislation, encourages Representatives and Senators to support it, and reserves the right to key vote in the future.***