Congress Fails its Primary Task -- Again.

One of the consequences of Congress’s failure to do its most basic and important task – pass a budget – is that it sets the conditions for governmental failure during times of disruptive change.  And who will get stuck holding the stinking bag of failure when the inevitable governmental failure takes place? Career civil servants in general, and career Senior Executives in specific.

One of the consequences of Congress’s failure to do its most basic and important task – pass a budget – is that it sets the conditions for governmental failure during times of disruptive change.  And who will get stuck holding the stinking bag of failure when the inevitable governmental failure takes place?  Career civil servants in general, and career Senior Executives in specific.

We’ve seen this horror film before. Think Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill, the recent hurricane trauma in Puerto Rico or just your average catastrophe, like wild fires in California or an Amtrak accident. The government’s ability to deal with crises is rooted in effective planning and the ability to allocate sufficient resources during times of high stress. But budget uncertainty disrupts the best laid plans and Continuing Resolutions (CRs) force tough decisions about resource allocation, for example how to deal with three major hurricanes in 2017. Both of those problems can be directly tied to Congress’s inability to deliver budgets on time.

Just in FY18 we have experienced five CRs as Congress struggles to overcome partisan bickering and settle on a blueprint for government spending. Overall, the Congress has passed 113 CRs over the past 20 years and has failed to pass all 12 appropriation bills at the start of a fiscal year for an amazing two decades. Even if Congress manages to pass an Omnibus budget sometime in March, as is now hoped, the damage has already been done to the Executive Branch’s ability to respond to short and long-term crises.

As the Peterson Foundation recently wrote, Congress’s addiction to the CR-opiate “reflects the continued failure of lawmakers to reach agreement on appropriations for the full 2018 fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2017 and runs through September 30, 2018. Funding the government for a full year is preferable to using a CR because it allows government agencies to plan appropriately and match their resources with their responsibilities. That predictability in turn benefits the economy by providing certainty about government actions.”

Executive Branch career leaders who should have been developing long-term plans for infrastructure revitalization, emergency preparedness, or normal program oversight have been consumed by developing alternative budget scenarios, pinching pennies to make ends meet, or planning for government shutdowns. This insidious pattern has been repeated for two decades and the long-term consequences are now being felt: critical national infrastructure is crumbling, military preparedness is undermined, and the ability to respond to external threats, such as cyberattacks by hostile nations, is lacking.

This accretion of Congressional ineptitude has influenced public perceptions about the Executive Branch’s performance. The public at large and most critics of the executive branch, including many members of Congress, do not understand that Congressional failure to pass budgets are the root cause of “failures” that are typically ascribed to career civil servants.

It’s time for Congress to do their jobs so career senior leaders can do theirs.

Tags: Message from Your SEA President, Bill Valdez

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