CBO’s View on the Wall Street Journal Story about CBO

February 1, 2012

The Wall Street Journal has just published an article entitled “Congress’s Number Cruncher Comes Under Fire.” Here’s our view:

CBO is responsible for providing nonpartisan and thoughtful analysis to the Congress, and we are proud that our success in carrying out that mission, for more than 35 years, is widely acknowledged both on and off Capitol Hill. We have the utmost confidence in the objectivity of our work and devote considerable time and energy to explaining the basis of our findings as clearly as we can to help Members of Congress understand the work that we do.

In fulfilling its responsibility to the Congress, CBO works hard to ensure that its cost estimates and other analyses are impartial and well-researched. To that end, the agency:

  • Draws on the knowledge and insights of the talented analysts on its staff as well as input from outside experts (including professors, analysts at think tanks, private-sector experts, and employees at other government agencies) representing a variety of perspectives;
  • Applies a rigorous internal review process that involves multiple people at different levels in the organization;
  • Enforces strict rules to prevent conflicts of interest; and
  • Makes no policy recommendations.

In preparing its cost estimates and other analyses, CBO uses data and other information from a wide variety of sources, including federal agencies, state and local governments, and industry groups, among others. CBO closely follows professional developments in economics and related fields, encourages open discussion of analytic issues, and consults with outside experts in a broad range of relevant areas for guidance on ongoing work. It also holds regular meetings with its Panel of Economic Advisers and Panel of Health Advisers, which consist of experts with a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise; the advisers are listed on CBO’s Web site, and staff of relevant Congressional committees are invited to attend the meetings. Although CBO draws upon a diverse set of outside experts, the agency’s findings are based on its own judgments, and it is solely responsible for the substance and presentation of those findings.

Although much of the analysis that CBO undertakes is very technical in nature, the agency works hard to explain the basis for its findings so that Members of Congress, their staff, and outside analysts can understand the results and question the methodologies used. To this end, the agency:

  • Makes its cost estimates for public pieces of legislation and its other analyses available immediately to all Members of Congress, their staff, and the public.
  • Generally includes in its formal cost estimates descriptions of the basis for the estimates.
  • Includes in many macroeconomic analyses substantial discussions of the relevant research literature and CBO’s modeling approaches.
  • Reports on the sources of revisions to its budget projections and its record of economic forecasts.
  • Releases background papers to provide details about CBO’s analyses for nonexperts and working papers to provide technical descriptions of its analyses.
  • Frequently explains details underlying cost estimates and other analyses to interested Members of Congress and their staff.

However, CBO sometimes faces tradeoffs between providing additional information about previous cost estimates and other analyses, and responding to Congress’s pressing needs for additional analysis. In 2011, CBO published multiple economic forecasts and budget projections, produced several hundred formal cost estimates and mandate statements, and released roughly a hundred studies, testimonies, and other analyses. To produce this work, CBO drew on many iterations of dozens of complex models, as well as professional judgments often developed after lengthy deliberations. Conveying the details of all of those analytic processes in a way that would be useful to outside observers is often not feasible during the fast-moving legislative process, but CBO does its best to present and explain the key elements of its analyses.

As a matter of policy, and out of consideration for the privacy of CBO’s employees and former employees, we cannot discuss individual personnel matters. We also do not comment on CBO’s specific interactions with Members of Congress.