Management Matters Management MattersManagement Matters
Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Betwixt and Between

ARCHIVES

It's hard to imagine a more unstable budget environment for federal agencies. The government ran on a continuing resolution for months after fiscal 2011 started, and as a new Congress rolls into Washington, a wide range of budget battles seem imminent.

In late November, when announcing his opposition to an omnibus spending bill in the lame duck Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the election made it clear that voters want Congress to do business differently. "If this election showed us anything, it's that Americans don't want Congress passing massive trillion-dollar bills that have been thrown together behind closed doors," he said.

And the strong Republican sense that the election was a mandate for more frugal governance is bound to lead to a contentious tug of war over funding.

Lawmakers and others already are debating how far Republicans should go to reduce federal spending. Grover Norquist, president of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, told Politico in November 2010 that new House leaders should be willing to force a government shutdown, if necessary.

Mike Lee, the newly elected Republican senator from Utah, told NPR he would vote against increasing the debt limit by 1 cent, even if it meant agency operations must grind to a halt. "It's an inconvenience, it would be frustrating to many, many people and it's not a great thing, and yet at the same time, it's not something that we can rule out," he said. "It may be absolutely necessary."

But barring a total shutdown, the Obama administration seems ready to forge ahead with high-priority goals, despite an uncertain cash flow. Agencies were dealing with a continuing resolution even before the election, and certainly knew that, whatever the results, a budget would not be immediately forthcoming. When the Office of Management and Budget first asked agencies to identify their high-priority performance goals in June 2009, federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients said to focus on "significant challenges unlikely to be overcome without a concerted focus of agency resources." That would be existing resources, not additional ones. "The overall goal is to do more with less," Zients said in February 2010.

A year later, those resources are looking more and more scarce, setting the stage for the politicization of priorities the administration wanted to keep above the fray. When OMB approved those goals, they were meant to meet pressing management needs rather than score political points. But if agency leaders start to feel the spending squeeze from the new guard on Capitol Hill, then they might not be so willing to focus their precious time, people and money on administration-driven priorities.

Danny Werfel, OMB controller, says agency leaders know how to overcome budgetary constraints. "It's not a new challenge; it's one the government deals with every year," he says, noting agencies have responded by being both nimble and resilient. "We're learning how to manage through [continuing resolutions] in a way to continue to be transformative. Reorganizing ourselves, redeploying our resources more effectively, having accountability and clear goals -- when those ingredients are in place, we're able to overcome some of the budgetary constraints and move forward and be successful."

Elizabeth Newell covered management, human resources and contracting at Government Executive for three years.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.