Agencies entering budget limbo

The Office of Management and Budget is not requiring agencies to submit a formal budget request for fiscal 2010, and it also is not asking them to submit documents they normally file by September to support their budget requests.

OMB Director Jim Nussle, in a memo earlier this month, told agencies that budget information won’t be needed until the next administration, or at least until its transition team is in place.

The result is that the 2010 budget might offer little or no growth in agency information technology spending or other expenditures, analysts say. 

Nussle instructed agencies to proceed with their internal reviews and be prepared to give that information to the next administration as its officials work to pull together a budget designed for their priorities and goals in a short amount of time.

Nussle’s decision is unusual, according to veterans of previous administrations. However, Steve Kelman, a Harvard professor and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy under President Clinton, said it might be sensible. 

Although he hadn’t read Nussle’s memo, Kelman said its instructions might be intended to save OMB the trouble of writing a budget only to have to rework it for the next president. OMB’s actions might also help the next president get a proposed budget out in the first year of his or her administration rather than having to use the previous administration’s numbers, he said.

OMB will prepare a budget database with information on current services to lay the groundwork for the incoming administration, Nussle said. Agency officials will also gather information to develop estimates of spending on current programs. With that information, the next administration can build its budget proposals, Nussle wrote.

However, Nussle’s instructions could mean that agencies might not receive new money to begin major IT initiatives until the 2011 budget cycle, said Kevin Plexico,  executive vice president of the research firm Input.

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at FedSources, said any administration transition team would have little time to develop a budget, particularly with the information Nussle is requiring of department heads. The new president has only 13 calendar days from inauguration day until the proposed budget would be due.

The submission date for the budget proposal likely would be pushed back, Plexico said.

Stan Soloway, chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council, said the new administration’s transition team presumably will quickly get to work on a budget submittal that reflects its priorities for the first budget submittal. “But that task is made much more difficult when they don’t have the fully developed budget plan from which to work,” he said. Soloway was President Clinton’s deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition reform.

Nussle said integrating performance plans into the budget process remains an administration priority.

He asked agencies to submit their fiscal 2010 performance plans with their budget materials in September. Nussle instructed agencies to provide employee head counts and estimated costs for current program services — figures that should give the incoming administration insight into program costs in fiscal 2009 and 2010, he said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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