US Budget constraints limit Barack Obama's second-term agenda

Obama

But experts with experience in federal allocations say it will be exceedingly difficult to carve out room from other budget areas.

MORE PRISONS, MORE TAX EXAMINERS

The Census Bureau predicts the U.S. population will grow by 12.5 million over the coming four years. That will place increased demands on the government, requiring many agencies to boost staffing to avoid a performance downgrade, Lilly said.

The FBI, for example, will need more crime fighters, and the IRS will need more tax examiners. Increased highway traffic will degrade roads more quickly, and increased air traffic will require more air traffic controllers.

The Bureau of Prisons will face greater costs as it expects the federal inmate population to rise 8 percent in the next four years, while the Veterans Administration will see mounting health-care costs with an aging veterans population.

Some technology-intensive agencies like the National Weather Service may save money through automation, said Joe Minarik, a top budget official under former President Bill Clinton. But others, like the Social Security Administration, will find that more powerful computers won't necessarily boost productivity.

"You've just doubled the speed of the computer behind me, but the elderly person on the other side of the desk is not speaking any faster," Minarik said.

Others say the Obama administration needs to show a greater willingness to cut ineffective programs.

"It seems incapable of producing budgets that identify program areas that don't work. Everything works for these people," said Jim Dyer, a former top Republican staffer on the House Appropriations Committee.

The Obama administration last year proposed $5.2 billion in discretionary spending cuts, and another $3.3 billion from defense. Because Congress has not passed any spending bills for the fiscal year that started last October, those cuts have not had a chance to become law. But many of them have already been rejected by Obama's Senate allies.

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