State and EPA hit hardest; performance plan would “untie” managers’ hands.
With the aim of “making government work again,” the Trump White House on Thursday unveiled a $1.1 trillion budget blueprint for discretionary spending in fiscal 2017 and 2018 that would abolish 19 agencies and eliminate thousands of agency jobs.
The 54-page “America First” document, focused primarily on fiscal 2018, would boost the Defense Department and related programs at Energy by $54 billion, and Homeland Security by $2.8 billion. It would offset such increases by cutting the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development by $10.1 billion (28 percent) and the Environmental Protection Agency by $2.6 billion (31 percent). The latter cut would eliminate approximately 3,200 positions, according to the document.
The agency-by-agency plans include eliminating dozens of grant programs at the Education and Commerce departments—many of them related to climate change. And Trump would eliminate the following agencies:
The African Development Foundation; the Appalachian Regional Commission; the Chemical Safety Board; the Corporation for National and Community Service; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the Delta Regional Authority; the Denali Commission; the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the Inter-American Foundation; the U.S. Trade and Development Agency; the Legal Services Corporation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation; the Northern Border Regional Commission; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; the United States Institute of Peace; the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness; and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Many of those agencies have been on the target lists of conservative budget hawks for many years.
“The defense and public safety spending increases in this budget blueprint are offset and paid for by finding greater savings and efficiencies across the federal government,” Trump wrote in his introduction. “We are going to do more with less, and make the government lean and accountable to the people. This includes deep cuts to foreign aid,” he added. “Many other government agencies and departments will also experience cuts. These cuts are sensible and rational. Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people.”
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney called the president’s commitment to fiscal responsibility historic: “Not since early in President Reagan’s first term have more tax dollars been saved and more government inefficiency and waste been targeted,” he said. “Every corner of the federal budget is scrutinized, every program tested, every penny of taxpayer money watched over. “
The bulk of the plan’s text addresses proposed reforms in agency management and performance, stressing an “evidence-based” approach to improving programs and services as well as hiring.
“Delivering high-performing program results and services to citizens and businesses depends on effective and efficient mission support services,” the blueprint said. “However, despite years of efforts to improve these critical management processes, managers remain frustrated with hiring methodologies that do not consistently bring in top talent, acquisition approaches that are too cumbersome, and [information technology] that is outdated.”
The Office of Management and Budget also implicitly criticized the Obama administration’s management approach for focusing too much on unproductive “compliance activities” that fail to give managers sufficient freedom.
“Past management improvement initiatives resulted in the creation of hundreds of guidance documents aimed at improving government management by adding more requirements to information technology, human capital, acquisition, financial management, and real property,” it said. “These governmentwide policies often tie agencies’ hands and keep managers from making common sense decisions. As a result, costs often increase without corresponding benefits,” it said. “The administration will roll back low-value activities and let managers manage, while holding them accountable for finding ways to reduce the cost of agency operations.”
The Trump team vowed to improve procurement and other support functions by using “available data to develop targeted solutions to problems federal managers face, and begin fixing them directly by sharing and adopting leading practices from the private and public sectors.”
All agencies, it continued, “will be responsible for reporting critical performance metrics and showing demonstrable improvement,” an allusion to recently reported plans to revive a George W. Bush-era program for measuring effectiveness.
The budget document recaps Trump’s recent executive orders promoting deregulation. “When it comes to regulatory reform, it is abundantly clear that the president means business,” the document reads. “The president has put into place truly significant new structural mechanisms that will help to ensure that major regulatory reforms are finally achieved on behalf of the hardworking and forgotten men and women of America.”
Plans for reorganizing the agencies, it said, are best made from the White House. “In roughly a year, the Congress will receive from the president and the director of the Office of Management and Budget a comprehensive plan for reorganization proposals.”
Fast upon its release, affected interest groups began defending their programs and budget analysts weighed in with reminders that Congress does the bulk of preparation of the budget that becomes law. Some noted that the so-called “skinny budget”—about half the length of the 134—page document President Obama’s new team submitted early in 2009—by design does not address the longer-term spending issues such as entitlement programs, tax policy and interest on the debt, all of which will be dealt with in a longer budget planned for May.
Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said, “We understand that the new administration needs time to develop its comprehensive budget plan, but there is too little information and too few details to evaluate the budget.” While applauding the Trump plan to offset spending hikes in fiscal 2018, she warned that debt and deficits would continue to rise. And “such aggressive domestic discretionary cuts will be hard to sustain given that this area of the budget has already undergone large cuts and is projected to grow more slowly than inflation,” she said.
One agency facing elimination under the Trump budget, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, sent Government Executive the following statement: "Museums and libraries throughout the nation provide critical resources and services that contribute significantly to Americans’ economic development, education, health and well-being. The grants and programs that IMLS administers are helping libraries and museums make a tremendous difference in the communities they serve, whether by facilitating family learning, sustaining cultural heritage or by stimulating economic development through job training and skills development.”
Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said in a statement, "The elimination of federal funding to CPB would initially devastate and ultimately destroy public media’s role in early childhood education, public safety, connecting citizens to our history, and promoting civil discussions for Americans in rural and urban communities alike."