Sequestration: Plenty of Room to Cut Ineffective Programs

David Muhlhausen /

Public Domain

The Progressive Congressional Caucus (PCP) recently released a video hyping the forthcoming sequestration “cuts.”

The video warns that sequestration will have the harmful effect of “cutting investments for working Americans,” “70,000 children will be kicked off Head Start,” “$35 million [will be] cut from support for firefighters,” and “830,000 fewer workers [will be] receiving job training.”

What the advocates of out-of-control spending don’t tell the public is that sequestration represents just a 2.4 percent reduction in the federal government’s $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal year (FY) 2013. Despite this reduction in spending, the federal government is still going to spend more than it did in total in FY 2012. Let’s dismantle PCP’s claims one at a time.

Head Start. The PCP wants Americans to think of spending on Head Start, a “Great Society” relic, as “investments.” Is Head Start a good investment? Overwhelming scientific evidence clearly proves that Head Start doesn’t work. The Head Start Impact Study—a scientifically rigorous evaluation—found that the nearly $8 billion a year program has little to no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting practices of participants. On a few measures, access to Head Start actually had harmful effects on children.

Firefighter Grants. Fire grants, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, encompass a number of grant programs. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program subsidizes the routine activities of local fire departments and emergency management organizations. Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grants fund projects to improve the safety of firefighters and the public from fire and related hazards. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants are intended to increase staffing levels by funding the salaries of career firefighters and paying for recruitment activities for volunteer fire departments.

The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis evaluated the effectiveness of fire grants and compared fire departments that received grants to fire departments that did not receive grants. Fire grants appear to be ineffective at reducing fire casualties. AFG, FP&S, and SAFER grants failed to reduce firefighter deaths, firefighter injuries, civilian deaths, or civilian injuries. Without receiving fire grants, comparison fire departments and grant-funded fire departments were equally successful at preventing fire casualties.

Job Training. Federal job-training programs have a long history of failure. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has concluded that there is little evidence of effectiveness of federal job-training programs. Consider Job Corps, another “Great Society” relic, which offers job-training services to disadvantaged youths age 16–24 in 125 sites across the nation. The Department of Labor Office of Inspector General estimates each Job Corps participant who is successfully placed into any job costs taxpayers $76,574.

What does the taxpayer get for this “investment?” A scientifically rigorous impact evaluation of Job Corps found:

If the Job Corps actually improves the skills of its participants, then it should have substantially raised their hourly wages. However, a $0.22 increase in hourly wages suggests that Job Corps does little to boost the job skills of participants. One is certainly within reason to question whether the program is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, as it costs $76,574 per participant placed in any job. Job Corps fails any reasonable cost-benefit analysis test.

Clearly, beyond the fact that these federal “investments” in Head Start, firefighter grants, and job training are not federal priorities at all, they are not producing a worthwhile return. Moreover, in some cases they are actually harmful. These programs are ineffective and a worthy place for sequester cuts to be applied.