A Price-Tag on Federal Mandates

Article excerpt

As unfunded-mandate legislation awaits a final House vote, an examination of how the issue impacts higher education seems in order. These laws or regulations, usually federal, require certain actions by others, usually states, but provide no funds to carry them out. Eliminating such unfunded mandates has become a battle cry in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Medicaid is often used as an example of an unfunded mandate. Federal law specifies who and how much is covered, but states are required to share the expense, with the percentage share specified by federal law (between 30 and 50 percent).

Universities are inundated with unfunded mandates, creating an almost uncontrollable bureaucracy in higher education. Unfunded mandates come not only from the federal government, but from state governments and quasi-government agencies such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association and a multitude of accrediting agencies. At the University of Missouri at Columbia, our medical center alone has 138 different groups that specify various rules and regulations affecting it.

No one really knows what all this costs. But for those of us who run colleges and universities, unfunded mandates are placing increasing financial pressure on our institutions. I set out to estimate the impact of unfunded mandates on our university over the past decade. The scope and complexity of all those costs, such as those attributed to our accrediting agencies, makes this a formidable task. However, the costs we could clearly pinpoint add up to $80 million for the last 10 years. So, very conservatively estimated, MU has averaged $8 million a year in unfunded mandates over a decade.

What are these unfunded mandates and how did we calculate the costs? First, consider that they do not include services delivered to the poor and elderly in our university hospital. Medicare and Medicaid fund medical services at less than actual cost. Full funding for these services would drive our total for unfunded mandates $170 million higher - $78 million for Medicare and $92 million for Medicaid.

There are literally hundreds of regulations and acts with which MU must comply, most of them overly prescriptive. While I have nothing but positive feelings about the original principle or intentions embodied in a number of these regulations, the expensive, bureaucratic, paperwork-laden nightmare that has resulted in no way serves our constituents or our nation well. Examples of the mandates' impacts include:

MU is required by law to establish and maintain an office of environmental health and safety. This office - itself an unfunded mandate - oversees our compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency (at a cost of $2.6 million for the past decade), Nuclear Regulatory Commission ($2.76 million), Department of Transportation ($235,000), Health and Human Services ($264,000), U. …