Gerald R. Ford photo

Annual Budget Message to the Congress, Fiscal Year 1978.

January 17, 1977

To the Congress of the United States:

The budget is the President's blueprint for the operation of the Government in the year ahead. It records his views on priorities and directions for the future-balancing the American desire to solve every perceived problem at once with the practical reality of limited resources and competing needs.

The thirty budgets I have either shaped or helped to shape are a chronicle of our lives and times. They tell us what we have aspired to be and what we have been in fact. They tell us about the growing complexity of our society, about the changing and growing role of our Government, and about new problems we have identified and our attempts to solve them.

In shaping my budgets as President, I have sought to renew the basic questions about the composition and direction of the Government and its programs. In my reviews of existing and proposed programs and activities I have asked:

--Is this activity important to our national security or sense of social equity?

--Is this activity sufficiently important to require that we tax our people or borrow funds to pay for it?

--Must the Federal Government raise the taxes or borrow the funds or should State or local government do so?

--Should the Federal Government direct and manage the activity or should it limit its role to the provision of financing?

--How has the program performed in the past? Have the benefits outweighed the costs in dollars or other burdens imposed?

--Have the benefits gone to the intended beneficiary?

--Does this activity conflict with or overlap another?

As a result of these reviews I have proposed to reverse some trends and to accelerate others.

I have proposed, and re-propose this year, a marked slowdown in the rate of growth in Government spending. Over the last three decades, Federal, State, and local government spending has grown from 18% of GNP to 34% of GNP. Federal spending growth has averaged 10% per year over the last decade. And even these percentages do not tell the whole story. As the budget documents illustrate, there has been a trend over the last few years toward so-called "offbudget" spending. This is an undesirable practice because it obscures the real impact of the Federal Government and makes it more difficult for any but the most technically knowledgeable citizens to understand what their Government is doing. Therefore, I am calling for legislation to halt this practice so that our budget system will fully reflect the financial activities of the Government.

In a related attempt to gain greater control over the rate of growth of Government spending I have given special attention this year to spending plans for fiscal year 1979, the year after the budget year. For the first time, the Federal budget shows detailed planning amounts for the year beyond the budget year. This innovation grows out of my conviction that our only real hope of curbing the growth of Federal spending is to plan further in advance and to discipline ourselves to stick to those plans.

From the standpoint of deficits of most recent years the 1978 budget I present shows us fairly close to balance in 1979 and shows balanced budgets thereafter. The effects on 1978 and 1979 spending of congressional action in the last session rejecting many of the restraints I proposed for the current fiscal year, 1977, made total balance in 1979 impossible unless I was willing to abandon, at least in part, the further immediate tax relief I have advocated since October of 1975 and, for no reason other than being able to show such a 1979 balance, cut back from program levels I feel are justified. These alternatives were unacceptable, but given the greatly reduced deficit for 1979 this budget implies, congressional cooperation on the restraints I propose and a slightly better economic performance in the months ahead than we have used in preparing this 1978 budget, it is entirely possible that when the 1979 budget is due to be submitted, a year from now, it could be in total balance as I have strived to achieve.

With restraint on the growth of Federal spending, we can begin to provide permanent tax reductions to ease the burden on middle-income taxpayers and businesses. For too long Government has presumed that it is "entitled" to the additional tax revenues generated as inflation and increases in real income push taxpayers into higher tax brackets. We need to reverse this presumption. We need to put the burden of proof on the Government to demonstrate the reasons why individuals and businesses should not keep the income and wealth they produce. Accordingly, my long-term budget projections assume further tax relief will be provided, rather than presuming, as has been the practice in the past, that positive margins of receipts over expenditures that show up in projections are "surpluses" or "fiscal dividends" that must be used primarily for more Federal spending, on existing or new programs or both.

One trend has been reversed in the past two years. After several years of decline in real spending for national security purposes the Congress has agreed in substantial part to my recommendations for increases in defense spending. The budget I propose this year and the planning levels for the succeeding four years assume a continuation of this real growth trend. My recommendations are the result of a careful assessment of our own defense posture and that of our potential adversaries. In this area as in all others, I am recommending spending I consider essential while at the same time proposing savings in outmoded or unwarranted activities. For the longer term, my recommendations recognize the simple fact that we must plan now for the defense systems we will need 10 years from now.

This same approach was reflected last year in my recommendations for the Federal Government's basic research and development programs. In spite of the financial pressures on the Federal budget, I recommended real growth. I am again proposing real growth for basic research and development programs this year because I am convinced that we must maintain our world leadership in science and technology in order to increase our national productivity and attain the better life we want for our people and the rest of the world.

I am also calling again for an end to the proliferation of new Federal programs and for consolidation of many of the programs we now have. At last count there are 1,044 programs identified in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. While our Nation has many needs, there is no rational justification for the maze that has been created.

Overlap and duplication are not the only defects of these programs; nor are they the most serious. More importantly, the current programs too often fail to aid the intended beneficiaries as much as expected, rewarding instead those who have learned how to work the Washington system. Some of these programs fail to pinpoint responsibility and accountability for performance and too many impose a managerial and operating burden on the Federal Government, diverting attention from the functions that must be performed at the Federal level and at the same time usurping the proper roles of State and local governments and the private sector.

If we could ever afford the "luxury" of this inefficiency and ineptitude, we can no longer. Federal programs for health services, elementary and secondary education, child nutrition and welfare, for example, are areas that desperately need reform. I called for action last year and prepared detailed legislative proposals. Those who truly care about the needs of our people will not let another year go by without reform. There is no excuse, for example, for the Federal Government to have 15 different child nutrition programs spending over $3 billion per year and still have 700,000 children from families below the poverty line who receive no aid. Nor is there any reason to take the money out of the taxpayers' pockets to subsidize their own children's school lunch.

It will take real courage to correct these problems and the others I have identified for congressional action without following the all too familiar pattern of the past--simply adding more programs. But, increasingly, courage is not a choice; it is an absolute requirement if we are to avoid ever larger, less responsive government.

The task ahead will not be easy because it will require some fundamental changes in our expectations for Government. As a start, we need to understand that income and wealth are not produced in Washington, they are only redistributed there. As a corollary, we need to overcome the idea that Members of the Congress are elected to bring home Federal projects for their district or State. Until this idea is totally rejected, higher funding levels for old programs and more new programs will be enacted each year as Members of the congress seek to insure their reelection. We also need to overcome the prevalent attitude that only new programs with multibillion-dollar price tags are worthy of media attention and public discussion and worthy of being judged bold and innovative. The multitude of programs already in a budget of more than $400 billion and initiatives to do something about them are worthy of intense public scrutiny, discussion and judgment in their own right.

These changes in attitude will require leadership not only by the executive branch, but, at least equally important, on the part of each Member of the Congress. Members of the Congress must begin to share the burden of the President in saying no to special interest groups--even those in their own districts or States.

The changes that have occurred in the congressional budgetmaking process in recent years provide some basis for optimism for the future. The new budget committees have begun to provide a counterbalance to the spending and taxing committees, offering hope that the total effect of the splintered actions of the other committees will be given equal weight in the congressional process.

But more progress is needed. Just as the budget process cannot do the whole job in the executive branch, it cannot in the Congress either. No Chatter how streamlined and properly organized the departments and agencies of the executive branch or the committees and subcommittees of the Congress become-and there is surely room for substantial improvement in this respect at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue--the executive branch must continue to refine and the Congress must adopt processes whereby recommendations to the President or to the House or Senate, as the case may be, on major issues are developed by task force groups representing the competing priorities of various departments and agencies and of the various congressional committees and subcommittees. The reason is simply that most major issues cut across jurisdictional lines, no matter how well drawn--energy, international affairs, and welfare reform, to name but a few examples. I urge the new administration to build on what has been accomplished in this regard in the executive branch. I urge the Congress promptly to put into place the necessary counterpart mechanisms. Such improvements in process, coupled with further progress in the development of the budget process, will help substantially in addressing and meeting our problems and attaining the goals we have set for our Nation.

The last thirty budgets record a turbulent period in our history; wars, domestic strife and serious economic problems. In the last two years, we have laid the foundation for a positive future. We have stabilized international relationships and created the framework for global progress. At home, we have restored confidence in government while reversing the trends of inflation and unemployment. Building on this solid base, the policies and programs contained in this budget can help us to fulfill the promise of America.


January 17, 1977.

Gerald R. Ford, Annual Budget Message to the Congress, Fiscal Year 1978. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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