In a hastily adjusted fiscal 2019 budget reflecting Congress’s recent spending boost, the Trump administration on Monday offered a $4 trillion plan that largely keeps to its shrink-the-government priorities in program areas if not on the ledger.
But what Budget Director Mick Mulvaney called “an aggressive set of spending reforms that cut deficits by $3 trillion over 10 years” represents a retreat from last year’s goal of balancing the budget within 10 years.
“The budget imposes a fiscal discipline on Washington spending that many in today’s political climate reject, yet which remains more important than ever,” Mulvaney said in a statement. He added that the plan—released as deficits are estimated to soon double to a trillion dollars—would reduce “debt as a percentage of GDP and [improve] our long-term fiscal sustainability.”
» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.
To comply with the new spending caps in this month’s congressional budget agreement, it would allocate $716 billion for defense (shifting $20 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding to the base budget). It would allot $540 billion for domestic spending and proposed savings of $48.4 billion in discretionary programs, including $25.8 billion in program eliminations and $22.6 billion in reductions.
Trump again called for the elimination of more than a dozen agencies, among them: the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the Chemical Safety Board; the Legal Services Corp.; the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; and the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Economic Development Administration, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp., the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the International Development Foundations and various regional commissions.
Congress did not end up zeroing out any of the agencies proposed for elimination in the fiscal 2018 budget request.
In a candid statement on Congress’s dramatic budget deal raising spending caps by $300 billion between fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the budget said: “We believe that this level responsibly accounts for the cap deal while taking into account the current fiscal situation. Spending at the levels included in the cap deal would add an additional $680 billion to the nation’s deficit over 10 years above the fiscal 2019 budget.”
The request did include spending hikes for Trump priorities, such as:
- $200 billion in federal funds to spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments over 10 years with state, local and private partners;
- $23 billion for a Southern border wall,
- $85 billion in new spending for veterans health; and,
- $3 billion in new funding in 2018 and $10 billion in new funding for the Health and Human Services Department to combat the opioid epidemic.
The Homeland Security Department budget would rise to include $782 million to hire and support 2,750 additional law enforcement officers and agents at U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (It would provide $2.7 billion to pay for an average daily detention capacity of 52,000 illegal aliens at ICE, the agency’s highest-ever detention level, the White House said.)
The budget request reiterated Trump themes of reducing the regulatory burden and relying more on data and evidence in decision making. It also called for changes in federal agency culture; agency priority goals were released on Performance.gov, though an in-depth discussion of the president’s management agenda was postponed until March. Highlights of the plans it mentioned include those “eliminating unnecessary political positions; using shared services to improve IT services and reduce costs through economies of scale; realigning offices and personnel; and revamping regional offices.”
Overall, “achieving beneficial outcomes that serve the public should be the federal government’s primary focus,” the budget document stated. “Yet service delivery sometimes suffers due to checking unnecessary bureaucratic boxes. Managers need greater discretion to execute programs effectively, foster the highest-performing workforce, and solve real-time problems.”
Citing the risk of unsecured technology, the budget said, “Too many federal employees perform outdated duties that rely on outdated skillsets, and government too often struggles to award effective, timely contracts. A more nimble and effective approach is needed to keep technologies and workforce skills current and to ensure that the Federal workforce can meet future needs.”