We are starting to get a lot of questions about TTB’s future. Over the years I have marveled and wondered if Bill Clinton or George W. Bush spent much time pondering the fate of ATF or TTB (and, for example, the intricacies of the label approval process). Well, the Obama Administration clearly thinks about it a lot. Late last year, Wine & Spirits Daily wrote:
Obama’s Office of Management & Budget (OMB) is considering “the impact of folding TTB’s tax enforcement and collection functions into IRS, to be proposed in the Budget and implemented in FY 2013,” reports Kane’s Beverage News Daily. The TTB has until Dec 28 to submit a proposal to the OMB “analyzing the feasibility and appropriateness of this proposal, including a discussion of how the missions and goals of these two agencies could be combined.” Furthermore, TTB is to review whether its “regulatory and health-safety functions” can be transferred to the IRS or even the FDA.
Since then, there has been almost nothing in the press about this important story. As recently as today, Google News has not much of any consequence on this issue. I don’t see much on TTB’s website or newsletters. A few days ago, however, The Gray Report set forth some new information on this topic, and it provoked a lively discussion in the comments. W. Blake Gray wrote:
The politics of this potential elimination of the TTB are fascinating, and ultimately why I don’t think it will happen even if Obama wants it. … In this climate where government austerity is seen by many as a good thing, Obama could gain some chips by trying to eliminate a federal agency. … However, the Republicans in the House seem dead-set on preventing him from achieving anything at all, and that will only intensify leading up to November. I think they’ll reflexively oppose it. … But what a conflict it poses philosophically for Republicans. Deregulation is a party tenet — but how would social conservatives react to restrictions being taken off of Demon Rum?
The 2013 Federal Budget is set to be released in a week. According to The Washington Post, “The budget is traditionally released on the first Monday in February — which is Feb. 6 — but the administration has pushed the release to Feb. 13.” Last month, Wine & Spirits Daily wrote:
The TTB has since submitted a plan analyzing the proposal to the Office of Management & Budget, but nothing is public or final at this point. … There are two current speculations as to how the reorganization would go down. One, the organization and all of its functions would be taken in one lump sum and deposited into a corner of the IRS. Two, the TTB’s tax enforcement and collection function could go to the IRS, while its regulatory and health-safety functions could go to the FDA. This is the most extreme scenario. One thing that almost everyone agreed one, however, is that an united alcohol beverage industry has enough power to squash any such proposal if it indeed made its way to Congress.
At least with the TTB the industry is the priority. With the FDA you’re with 25 or 30 other industries.” Even more problematic is that the FDA may have some anti-alcohol types, whereas the TTB is a neutral force.
One of the biggest complaints last year was the TTB’s slow response time when it came to approving labels – a result of less funding by Obama and inevitable lay-offs. As a remedy, the TTB proposed shifting its duties more towards enforcement rather than label pre-approvals, but the industry fought it. Instead, it seems the industry would rather the TTB speed up the COLA process than do away with it.
[I]t doesn’t seem likely that disbanding the TTB would save much money because theoretically it would require the same amount of people to complete the same functions now performed by the TTB, which “is pretty bare bones as it is.” Furthermore, the “TTB is one of the few revenue generating agencies in the federal government. They make a lot of money. It would be hard to split it up effectively.”
Three years ago, as part of the 2010 Budget, the Obama Administration flirted with the idea of imposing user fees for various TTB activities, and not much came of it. In our opinion, to the extent this is some kind of business school-type exercise, or thought experiment (as in, show cause why there should not be a shakeup), it could be useful. But, if any reorganization would take several hundred people from one entity and replace them with a similar number at one or more other entities, it is hard to imagine that the costs would not outweigh the benefits.