Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought discusses President Trump's priorities during a press briefing on March 11 at the White House.

Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought discusses President Trump's priorities during a press briefing on March 11 at the White House. Tia Dufour/White House

Fleshed-Out Trump Budget Would Cut $48.8 Billion in Program Spending

New documents reflect “aggressive set of actions to redefine” the role of government.

In part two of its unusual bifurcated budget release, the Trump administration on Monday put more flesh on the bones of last week’s $4.7 trillion fiscal 2020 budget, promising discretionary spending cuts of $48.8 billion through an “aggressive set of actions to redefine the proper role of the federal government.”

The release of the analytical and historic tables, appendices and a chapter titled “Major Savings and Reforms,” provides program-level specifics on the previously announced proposed cuts to the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency (31.2 percent), the State Department (23.3 percent), and the Transportation Department (21.5 percent).

And it shows the Office of Management and Budget assuming that many of its already-announced reorganization plans will go through, such as those at the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration.

“Most of the eliminations and reductions in this volume reflect a continuation of policies proposed in the 2018 and 2019 President's Budgets that have not yet been enacted by the Congress and highlight the administration’s efforts to eliminate wasteful or unnecessary spending,” the introductory document said.

Trump’s vision for 2020 proposes $28 billion in program eliminations and $20.8 billion in reductions—all within the statutory budget caps balancing defense and non-defense spending. Programs to be eliminated include the Health and Human Services Department’s Social Services Block Grant, the State Department’s Food for Progress Food Aid Program, and the Security and Exchange Commission’s Commission Reserve Fund.

Among the agencies Trump would eliminate entirely, as he has attempted previously, are: the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Also on the block are the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Chemical Safety Board. “While CSB has done some useful work on its investigations, its overlap with other agency investigative authorities has often generated friction,” the budget said.

The new documents provide rationales for past reorganization proposals. They include elevating, beginning in 2020, some of OPM’s policy and workforce strategy functions to the Executive Office of the President, transferring background investigations to the Defense Department, and moving to GSA all remaining OPM services, such as retirement and insurance program administration.

The administration also wants to combine some statistical agencies and relocate the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics to the Commerce Department.

The White House also makes the case to streamline federal hiring: “The administration proposes to partner with Congress to cull the approximately 5,000 statutory and regulatory rules that, over time, have created an incomprehensible, administratively burdensome, and unmanageable civil service system,” the budget said. One proposed reform would arrest the drop-off in internships at federal agencies. “New hires of student interns fell from about 35,000 in 2010 to 4,000 in 2018,” the budget noted, recommending that a current 15 percent cap on direct hires of interns be removed.

The administration offered some praise for the federal workforce in a discussion of the recent 35-day partial government shutdown, citing the Presidential Rank Awards as one means for recognizing employee dedication:

“Hundreds of thousands of federal employees worked without pay, including border patrol agents who guarded entry-points; air traffic controllers who kept the skies safe; transportation security officers who protected passengers; Coast Guard officers who patrolled the waterways; and law enforcement officers at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshals Service, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and U.S. Secret Service who continued to serve and protect the country.”

Focus on CAP Goals

The proposed reorganization of OPM, the budget notes, supports six of the administration’s 14 cross-agency priority goals tracked on, including building the workforce of the 21st century, information technology modernization, improving customer experience, sharing services, shifting form low-value to high-value work and realigning security clearances.

Another cross-agency priority goal receiving detailed treatment in the budget is the decades-long effort reduce the government’s improper payments in such programs as Medicare at HHS and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) at the Agriculture Department. Sample proposals include expanding access to data used by the Treasury Department’s Do Not Pay Initiative, giving OMB the authority to adjust the dollar threshold of what counts as a “significant” improper payment, and requiring managers of high-priority programs to meet with the White House budget director at least yearly to discuss actions taken.

In evaluating program effectiveness, the administration continues to push for evidence-based policymaking, citing the 2018 law on the topic that requires agencies to designate an evaluation officer and to create a multi-year learning agenda. “We must continue to build comprehensive portfolios of evidence across the federal government in order to learn what is working and where to improve,” it said.

One area where past administrations are credited is the long-standing effort to better manage and dispose of unneeded federal real property. More recent actions have included OMB’s July 18 move to reconstitute the Federal Real Property Council made up of senior agency officers. The document praised “smart decisions” such as those that “reduce [offices’] square footage and consolidate into federally owned space, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics moving from an expiring lease to the GSA-owned Suitland (Md.) Federal Center and reducing the BLS footprint by more than 340,000 square feet.”

Exploding Deficits

In pushing a budget that, overall, would cut $2.7 trillion in spending over a decade, the administration warns of projected annual deficits that ”are on the verge of exceeding $1 trillion a year,” observing that “the national debt is over $22 trillion.”

In response to critics who note that those numbers have risen under Trump, in part because of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the 2020 budget assumes economic growth that differs, it notes, from “forecasts prepared around the same time by the Congressional Budget Office, the Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve, and the Blue Chip panel of private-sector forecasters.”

But the White House forecast “assumes full implementation of these proposals,” it argues. “At the opposite end of the spectrum, CBO produces a forecast that assumes no changes to current law.” The private-sector Blue Chips, it added, “are marked by considerable heterogeneity across individual forecasters and their policy expectations.”

Among the critics of the Trump budget is the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. After last week’s release of the fiscal 2020 topline numbers, its analysts said, “The president’s budget estimates it would reduce debt to 71 percent of Gross Domestic Product and deficits to $202 billion (0.6 percent of GDP) under its policies. A more realistic assessment suggests that debt under this budget would actually rise to 88 percent of GDP, and deficits would remain around $1 trillion per year.”

In shifting its spending priorities to raise the budgets of agencies such as the Defense Department, NASA and Homeland Security, the Trump team—surprisingly for an administration that speaks often of shrinking government—projects that the size of the federal workforce would actually grow. The historical tables say the total of 2 million civilian employees in fiscal 2018 is estimated to rise to 2.1 million in fiscal 2019 and 2.2 million in fiscal 2020—the highest on record going back to 1981.