When in doubt, create a committee.
That’s an old adage about lawmakers, but it holds true for Capitol Hill. A recent report says taxpayers coughed up $367 million to pay for advisory committees in just one calendar year.
That paid for a lot of committees – 1,009 to be precise – a category that also includes councils, task forces, boards, commissions and working groups.
“These entities have historically been used to address a gamut of public policy issues, offering policy recommendations on topics ranging from organ transplant practices to improving operations at the Department of Homeland Security,” notes a Congressional Research Service report on advisory committees dated Oct. 27.
All those committees need lots of members. In the calendar year that ended Sept. 31, 2015, 72,200 people sat on those boards, the report adds.
Advisory committees have a storied history, beginning with one set up by George Washington to look into the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, triggered when his government imposed its first tax on a domestic product. Since then, advisory boards have proliferated, and in 1972 Congress empowered the federal Office of Management and Budget to oversee the work of the committees.
It might sound like bloat, but the number of advisory committees has stayed steady in recent years, and the cost is actually going down.
In the calendar year that ended Sept. 30, 2011, the committees cost taxpayers $416 million (in constant 2015 dollars), the research service report said. Since then, legislators have cut back travel and per diem payments made to members to attend advisory committee hearings.
No committee lasts forever, either. Since the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972, all committees must disappear after two years unless Congress decides otherwise.