Data to drive 2016 discretionary budget decisions

Tuesday - 5/6/2014, 4:02pm EDT

Agencies will go down two roads as they put together their fiscal 2016 budget requests this summer. The first is deciding how to reduce discretionary spending by 2 percent over their projected 2016 funding levels. The second is deciding which discretionary programs deserve an increase. The increase across all programs cannot total more than 5 percent.

The Office of Management and Budget asked for both options as part of its annual budget guidance delivered to agencies May 5.

For both, agencies will take into account the progress they have made on the projects laid out in their new strategic plans published with the 2015 budget request in March.

By May 17, agencies must submit that analysis to OMB, said Lisa Danzig, OMB's associate director for personnel and performance.

"It's a forced curve. The noteworthy progress of the top 10 or 20 percent and significant challenges of the bottom 10 or 20 percent," she said at the Government Performance Summit, sponsored by The Performance Institute and the Association of Government Accountants, Tuesday in Washington. "We are asking agencies to self-assess, 'How well do you think you are doing in your programs?' Something could fall in the significant challenges group if it doesn't have enough resources or something happened in the external environment to change the dynamic. It's not a reflection of management or something has gone wrong in the agency. I think it will be a powerful tool in thinking about how well are we really performing as an agency."

Danzig said each agency has developed its own approach to conducting the strategic reviews. Some are being more scientific and others are being more subjective and taking qualitative information to determine what progress looks like.

"All of them have some dimension of a backward-looking impact, implementation assessment and a forward-looking what are the risks and opportunities around this?" said Danzig, who came to OMB in March after spending two years running the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Performance and Strategic Planning Office.

She said agencies must use these reviews to have a more "conscious" and "collaborative" discussion with the programs' stakeholders to make budget and programmatic tradeoffs.

Connect budget to goals

OMB wants agencies to use the data from these strategic reviews to make budget decisions for 2016.

Brian Deese, OMB's deputy director for Budget, said in the memo, agencies should connect budget requests to agency goals and detail to OMB how they did that.

This year's budget guidance is less harsh than those of the previous three years when OMB asked for at least a 5 percent discretionary budget reduction.

"Your budget submission will provide the President with the options needed to make the hard choices necessary to provide room for critical investments in priority areas, and focus limited funding on programs and approaches that work," Deese wrote in the memo. "To help meet this funding target, all agencies should continue to look for ways to increase effectiveness and reduce fragmentation, overlap and duplication. To that end, your submission should include a separate section that identifies recommendations in this area, both within your agency or with programs at other agencies. As appropriate, your list of recommendations should include proposals that address the Government Accountability Office's recommendations in this area."

At the same time, OMB is asking agencies for suggestions of where to increase spending levels by 5 percent based on the data that shows how well programs are working.

"These additional investments should be separately identified in your budget submission and ranked in priority order," Deese wrote.

Reforms around management agenda sought

Additionally, OMB wants agencies to develop a set of reform priorities focused on the President's second term management agenda: effectiveness, efficiency, economic growth and people with a particular focus on customer service, technology delivery and employee engagement.

Deese said agencies should explicitly detail any proposals to change funding levels to further these priorities as well as any that would achieve cost savings where the agency then would shift the money to mission-critical programs.

Agencies will work on their budget requests through the summer and submit them to OMB in September.

Danzig said she hopes the use of data will hopefully inform budget development and more effective longer-term strategies.

RELATED STORIES:

HUD's Danzig heading to OMB to lead performance office

OMB wants 10 percent cut in 2015 budget requests

OMB's Cobert says new performance goals to drive tangible outcomes

Budget proposal fleshes out OMB's management agenda