Citizens for Tax Justice called uponPresident Obama this week to stand by his message of transparency by finally making "tax expenditure" performance reviews a regular part of the OMB's evaluations of government effectiveness.
Simply put, tax expenditures differ from the rest of the tax code in that they focus on encouraging a specific activity or rewarding a particular group of people, rather than on trying to improve the efficiency, simplicity, or fairness of our tax system.Since tax expenditures are usually enacted with primarily non-tax goals in mind (e.g. encouraging investment, encouraging research and development, encouraging home ownership, etc.) it is important that the government make an effort to gauge their effectiveness in achieving those goals.
But despite calls from the GAO, past Congresses, and outside experts in favor of subjecting tax expenditures to regular performance reviews, the most comprehensive performance measure currently in place, the OMB's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), continues to focus narrowly on only traditional spending programs.
Encouragingly, language in the President's recently released budget blueprint suggests that a more comprehensive approach for evaluating the government's performance will be used under the Obama Administration (see. pp.39).It's hard to see how anything approaching true comprehensiveness could ignore the hundreds of billions of dollars the government directs toward programs administered via the tax code.Hopefully, the brief language addressing performance reviews that was included in this blueprint is the first signal that an end is coming to the free-ride thus far enjoyed by tax expenditures.