Last week, the House Budget Committee hosted a bipartisan staff event with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). This open house provided all congressional staff with the opportunity to meet CBO’s leadership, unit chiefs, and top analysts face-to-face. Experts across CBO’s Budget Analysis Division were also present to engage directly with staff, discuss the cost estimating process, and provide direct feedback on specific scores of legislation.
A Brief History. Established by the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, CBO was created to provide the Legislative Branch with its own scorekeeping agency—independent from the Executive Branch’s Office of Management and Budget. A nonpartisan and independent support agency that directly assists the House and Senate Budget Committees, CBO also acts as a resource to members of Congress and their staff, particularly by providing cost estimates of proposed legislation.
Review and Improve. Earlier this year, the House Budget Committee conducted a series of five hearings related to CBO’s structure, processes, assumptions, and transparency. In fact, the oversight series marked the first comprehensive review of the agency since it was created more than 40 years ago. While each hearing was designed to explore various aspects of CBO’s work, a key takeaway was that rank-and-file members and their staff often view CBO as inaccessible and the agency’s products as difficult to understand. Since then, the Committee has worked with CBO to help improve and expand staff outreach, make products easier to understand, and encourage development of interactive tools. The recent open house event further supported this ongoing effort.
A Fruitful Exchange. Bringing CBO’s analysts and congressional staff together proved beneficial for all in attendance. The event resulted in lively, productive conversations. CBO shared insight into budgetary outcomes of proposed legislation, and staffers were able to help CBO gain a deeper understanding of members’ daily needs and concerns.
Staff attending were also offered materials to better understand CBO’s work, including advance copies of a new report that breaks down the various pieces of a cost estimate report: CBO’s Cost Estimates Explained. Now available on CBO’s website, the report details the anatomy of a cost estimate and provides guidance on how to read a CBO estimate report and tables in order to get the most out of the product. Combined with ongoing transparency efforts, initiatives such as this will help CBO be a better resource for Congress.