Buzz of the Week

Fiscal 2008? What about 2007?

The Bush administration released its proposed budget for fiscal 2008 last week, although most people in government are more concerned about the stalled spending bills for fiscal 2007. More than four months into the government’s new fiscal year, agencies are still saying, “Show us the money.”

This annual stalemate is particularly vexing because of the needless strain that it puts on the system. Congress will pass the spending bills one way or another, so the procrastination makes little sense.

But the stalling puts agencies in a terrible bind. If lawmakers pass fiscal 2007 spending bills later this month, as is generally expected, agencies will get their funds to operate. No harm done, right? Unfortunately, agencies must spend the funds by the end of the fiscal year. So some agencies have to get moving so they don’t lose that money.

Most officials will not say publicly that they go on a spending spree in such circumstances. But imagine how efficiently your house or company would operate if your ability to spend money was turned off, then on, then off again — with predictable unpredictability.

In the early days of the new Congress, lawmakers have focused on ethics reforms, earmarks and all forms of waste, fraud and abuse. There has been little discussion of reforming and rationalizing how the government passes spending bills.

And people wonder why the government doesn’t run like a business.

The Buzz contenders

#2: The other budget season

President Bush pressed forward last week by releasing the administration’s fiscal 2008 spending proposal. The budget requests $65 billion in information technology spending, a 2.6 percent increase from fiscal 2007.

The administration is focusing on results — a recurring theme in the past six years.

“It’s time for us to really drive utilization into solutions,” said Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget’s administrator for e-government and IT.

The release of the budget request is always interesting because it provides the best indication of an administration’s priorities. But we should remember that the president’s budget is a proposal, and for the first time in his tenure, Bush is submitting his budget proposal to a Democratic Congress. Much of the president’s budget request will stay intact, but aspects of it are certain to change, assuming Congress passes the spending bills.

#3 The fourth branch of
government

The New York Times featured a story Feb. 3 about a spike in contracting during the Bush presidency. “In Washington, contractors take on biggest role ever,” the headline states.

“Without a public debate or formal policy decision, contractors have become a virtual fourth branch of government. On the rise for decades, spending on federal contracts has soared during the Bush administration, to about $400 billion last year from $207 billion in 2000, fueled by the war in Iraq, domestic security and Hurricane Katrina, but also by a philosophy that encourages outsourcing almost everything government does,” the story states.

People can quibble about the story’s details — whether Bush’s competitive sourcing initiative “went without public debate” and whether outsourcing was a Bush doctrine or a continuation of long-standing policies. But all can see that government contracting is under a microscope these days — on Capitol Hill and in the mainstream media.

#4 Déjà VA, all over again

Just when you thought it was safe to take your laptop PC home again, the Department of Veterans Affairs has lost more data.

A VA-owned portable hard drive, potentially containing personal information on an unknown number of veterans, was reported missing from an Alabama facility. A VA employee at a medical facility in Birmingham reported that the hard drive might have been stolen, the department announced Feb. 2.

Last year, a laptop and external hard drive containing personal data on about 26.5 million veterans and their families were stolen from the home of a VA employee in suburban Maryland. The laptop and hard drive were recovered a month later, and FBI officials said the thieves most likely had not compromised the data. But the theft became a department scandal because several high-ranking VA officials failed to deal with the loss expeditiously.

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