What’s the Situation with the Budget and Appropriations?
The President’s budget request is irrelevant and we may be facing another shutdown or continuing resolution at the conclusion of the fiscal year.
President Trump delivered his FY2020 budget request to Capitol Hill in March, several weeks late due to the government shutdown. As is largely the case with all president’s budgets, Congress was quick to remind everyone of its power of the purse under Article 1 of the Constitution and that it, not the president, decides the nation’s spending priorities.
Nonetheless, the President’s budget absolutely provides direction to agencies for their programs and administration management priorities via the analytical perspectives chapters.
Through March and April, agency officials have been called to testify on Capitol Hill on their spending requests as appropriators work to complete their 12 bills prior to the conclusion of the fiscal year. Starting that process nearly half-way into the fiscal year, with a late presidential budget request and still lacking top line spending figures from congressional budget committees, provides the ingredients for another CR or shutdown come October of this year.
The divided Congress, which is reflected in the budget priorities laid out by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) and House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) demonstrates significant difference in perspective on policies and programs. Enzi’s budget resolution calls for significant spending cuts, including those targeting federal employee pay and retirement. Yarmuth decided to forgo pursuing a budget resolution, instead focusing on establishing top line budget caps as Congress looks down field to the need to raise caps of the Budget Control Act or face another round of sequestration. Achieving a deal on caps may prove elusive due to different approaches on defense vs non-defense spending as well as how to address cap-exempt accounts including for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).
SEA panned the president’s budget as largely cynical and half-baked and continues to make our constructive feedback known to lawmakers and administration officials, including where we support proposals. Below is SEA’s statement.
“Much of the language included in the president’s budget proposal rightly identifies many of the impediments our federal government confronts on a daily basis, while also correctly recognizing that the solutions will require a long-term commitment, rather than mere Band-Aids,” said Valdez.
“The effectiveness of our government will continue to be limited so long as we can neither recruit top talent, nor adequately train and retain the talent we have already hired. Our government must better position itself to modernize and compete in the global labor market. Even as the budget proposal suggests that our national and homeland security requires additional staffing in the military and along our borders, the budget reiterates penny-wise and pound-foolish proposals to enact federal pay freezes and benefit and retirement cuts, thus implicitly assuring applicants interested in those posts that working for the federal government would mean enduring instability and ceaseless attacks surrounding even their most basic compensation.”
“On the heels of the longest government shutdown in history, which deeply damaged the government’s brand as an employer, this budget sends all the wrong signals to Americans considering jobs serving their country in federal public service. Furthermore, reneging on promises made to federal annuitants -- who planned their careers and retirements based on a set of commitments from their employer -- should be a nonstarter,” Valdez continued. “Put simply, we will not attract nor retain an innovative and talented 21st century federal public service workforce by undertaking a race to the bottom on federal pay and benefits.”
Valdez concluded, “I am concerned about the level of serious consideration to change management planning related to the administration’s agency reorganization proposals. For example, characterizing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) functions as simply transferrable to the General Services Administration (GSA) is easier said than done and ignores OPM’s central statutory role in the federal merit system. Simply moving boxes on an org chart and superior technology are no saviors for inadequate planning and a people-focused change strategy. I urge the administration to bring stakeholders to the table to better understand the reorganization plans for OPM, and to better share information with the public so it can have confidence that taxpayer resources are being used wisely.”
Luckily, Congress has pushed back on many proposals that may sound good on paper but do not appear to have robust thought, planning, or execution strategy developed, including on the retirement cuts, the OPM-GSA merger, and extreme agency budget cuts.
It is important, however, to note that there are many positive and good elements in the president’s proposal and that ensuring Congress does not throw the baby out with the bathwater will be part of SEA’s focus. Expressing our strong support of proposals that do make sense, for example the proposal to enable payment of robust defined contribution retirement benefits to term employees will be something SEA continues to do.
Change is scary and difficult, especially in a polarized political atmosphere and divided Congress. Hopefully the polarization does not lead to paralysis, and lawmakers can find a way to prevent a shutdown and appropriate funds on time. Realistically, a CR that allows escaping a shutdown is likely the best outcome that can be hoped for in the fall.
In the meantime, SEA would like to hear from members how the lack of clarity on the budget and program priorities affects your operations and your staff. Are modernization efforts stymied or defeated due to lack of funding certainty, are you unable to hire or train staff, is morale being negatively affected? Please drop me a line at Jason.Briefel@seniorexecs.org.