Letter from Former CBO Directors on the Importance of CBO’s Role in the Legislative Process

July 21, 2017

Honorable Paul Ryan
Speaker
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Minority Leader
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Honorable Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Honorable Charles Schumer
Minority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Mr. Speaker, Madam Leader, Mr. Majority Leader, and Mr. Minority Leader:

The undersigned represent every former Director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). We write to express our strong objection to recent attacks on the integrity and professionalism of the agency and on the agency’s role in the legislative process.

CBO began serving the Congress in 1975. Over the past 42 years CBO has been firmly committed to providing nonpartisan and high-quality analysis — and that commitment remains as strong and effective today as it has been in the past. Because CBO works for the Congress, and only the Congress, the agency’s analysis addresses the unique needs of legislators.

To meet the standard of nonpartisan objectivity, CBO makes no recommendations about policy, regularly consults with researchers and practitioners with a wide range of views (as can be seen in the agency’s panels of advisers and reviewers for major studies), and enhances its transparency by releasing extensive descriptions of its analytic techniques and forecast record. To produce estimates of high quality, CBO uses its detailed understanding of federal programs and economic conditions, ongoing interactions with government officials and private-sector experts, the best academic research, and the latest available data consistent with the timing of the Congressional budget process.

CBO’s approach produces consistent comparisons of competing legislative proposals and unbiased projections of the impact of policy changes. Unfortunately, even nonpartisan and high-quality analysis cannot always generate accurate estimates. Policy changes are often complex, the economy is dynamic and defies precise prediction, and many policies are modified over time. However, such analysis does generate estimates that are more accurate, on average, than estimates or guesses by people who are not objective and not as well informed as CBO’s analysts.

In sum, relying on CBO’s estimates in the legislative process has served the Congress — and the American people — very well during the past four decades. As the House and Senate consider potential policy changes this year and in the years ahead, we urge you to maintain and respect the Congress’s decades-long reliance on CBO’s estimates in developing and scoring bills.

Sincerely,

Dan L. Crippen
Former Executive Director, National Governors Association (CBO Director, 1999–2003)

Douglas W. Elmendorf
Dean and Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School (CBO Director, 2009–2015)

Douglas Holtz-Eakin
President, American Action Forum (CBO Director, 2003–2005)

June E. O’Neill
Wollman Distinguished Professor Of Economics, The City University of New York (CBO Director, 1995–1999)

Peter R. Orszag
Vice Chairman of Investment Banking and Managing Director, Lazard (CBO Director, 2007–2008)

Rudolph G. Penner
Institute Fellow, Urban Institute (CBO Director, 1983–1987)

Robert D. Reischauer
Distinguished Institute Fellow and President Emeritus, Urban Institute (CBO Director, 1989–1995)

Alice M. Rivlin
Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution (CBO Director, 1975–1983)