Winners and Losers in the Omnibus Spending Bill
Shutdown-averting deal treats some agencies better than others.
Earlier this week, Congress unveiled a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that spells out line-by-line spending levels for federal agencies and each of their programs and offices. Lawmakers are expected to approve the measure Friday.
While the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act struck in October that set top-line funding levels for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 raised spending well above sequester caps, not every agency will make out well. In fact, Republicans boasted that in many cases, the bill would stymie the efforts of federal agencies and their employees.
“This bill provides responsible funding for nearly all of the federal government, while helping to stop wasteful and unnecessary spending and reining in regulatory overreach that hinders growth and job creation,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Still, most agencies would receive a funding boost under the bill, including some agencies that would be appropriated even more money than they requested. Here is a rundown of some of the most significant winners and losers in the omnibus:
Veterans Affairs Department: Congress opted to boost VA’s funding above even what it asked for. The omnibus would provide 10 percent more than what the department received in fiscal 2015 for a total of $71.4 billion in discretionary spending. The appropriations bill specifically authorizes the hiring of more than 1,500 staffers related to claims processing and guarantees whistleblower protections for medical staff.
Office of Personnel Management: The human resources agency would receive $272 million through Sept. 30, a whopping 94 percent funding increase over fiscal 2015. OPM had a rough go of it this year after facing two of the largest data breaches in the history of the federal government. Congress will provide the agency with $21 million to boost cybersecurity, however, and funded 10 years of protection for the millions of individuals impacted by the hacks.
NASA: The space agency would receive $19.3 billion under the spending package, 7 percent more than in fiscal 2015 and $750 million more than it requested. The funding boost would “keep the United States first in astronomy,” Senate Democratic appropriators said.
Census Bureau: With Census gearing up for the decennial population survey in 2020, the agency’s funding would jump 25 percent compared to fiscal 2015. The bureau is in the process of modernizing the survey, saying a more digital approach can save $5 billion.
Army Corps of Engineers: The corps would receive $6 billion, 10 percent more than it was appropriated last fiscal year and 26 percent more than it requested. Appropriators justified the boost, saying for every one dollar the corps spends it adds $16 to the economy.
Secret Service: Much like OPM, the Secret Service had a tough 2015. In hearing after hearing and scandal after scandal, the agency spent much of the year in a negative spotlight. Congress appears determined to fix it, however, boosting funding by 16 percent over fiscal 2015. The agency has long lamented its staffing shortages, and the omnibus would specifically allocate $4.5 million for hiring and $4 million in overtime to hasten the hiring process.
National Institutes of Health: Just two years ago, NIH was on our “losers” list. In fiscal 2016, however, the agency appears headed for its largest funding increase since 2003. NIH would receive $32 billion, a 7 percent increase over last fiscal year.
Federal employees: As recently as September, political prognosticators speculated there was a 75 percent chance of a government shutdown. Not only were the furloughs and delayed paychecks avoided, but Congress opted not to stand in the way of President Obama’s proposed 1.3 percent pay raise -- including the first increase to locality pay since 2010. Lawmakers also opted to give OPM hack victims 10 years of boosted identity protection services, and they granted employees who commute to work via public transportation permanent parity in benefits with those who drive. Coupled with lawmakers sparing the federal workforce in the two-year budget deal that preempted the omnibus, the spending bill has largely granted feds’ wishes this holiday season.
Environmental Protection Agency: While most agencies would see a spending boost under the omnibus agreement, EPA’s funding would be virtually frozen at $8.1 billion. The freeze comes after the EPA appropriation actually decreased last year compared to fiscal 2014. Republican leaders in Congress touted the hamstringing of EPA as one of the conservative priorities included in the spending package, boasting it would bring EPA funding to its lowest level since 2008 and enable the agency to employ its smallest workforce since 1989. The bill “blocks EPA overreach,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Democrats, looking for a silver lining, said the cuts were set to be even more severe in earlier iterations of the bill.
Transportation Security Administration: Despite the boosted spending levels provided in the budget deal, TSA would see its funding increase just 0.47 percent. Congress is set to freeze TSA hiring for the second consecutive year.
Internal Revenue Service: Like the EPA, the IRS has the ignoble distinction of appearing on the “losers” section of this list for the second consecutive year. While the IRS would receive a $290 million funding boost -- 3 percent over fiscal 2015 -- Republican appropriators boasted spending at the vast majority of IRS operations would be frozen. The new money would go exclusively toward customer service, fraud reduction and cybersecurity. Overall, the funding is $1.7 billion less than the Obama administration requested.
The omnibus includes a provision to ban bonuses for or the rehiring of individuals without first considering their misconduct and tax compliance. It would also prohibit “inappropriate” videos and conference spending. Ryan said the tax extenders bill attached to the omnibus would “rein in IRS bureaucrats and keep them accountable to American taxpayers.”
Securities and Exchange Commission: While the regulatory agency would receive a nearly 7 percent boost over its fiscal 2015 funding, the proposed appropriation would still fall about 7 percent short of its request. That would come after SEC received $200 million less than it asked for last fiscal year.
U.S. Postal Service: As it has done in every funding vehicle since 1983, Congress included a rider to block USPS from eliminating Saturday mail delivery. The Postal Service has for years fought to deliver mail just five days a week, but the Government Accountability Office ruled in 2013 the mailing agency must comply with the congressional provision. Congress included a line in the report on last year’s omnibus “encouraging” USPS not to move forward with the second phase of its plant consolidation plan, which it has since postponed indefinitely.
Non-career federal employees (and their portraits): While most civil servants will see a pay bump in 2016, most political appointees and Vice President Joe Biden would once again face a pay freeze. Congress also opted to continue its ongoing ban on official portraits for “an employee of the federal government including the president, the vice president, a member of Congress, the head of an executive branch agency or the head of an office of the legislative branch.”
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