With budget deadline still months away, should agencies start prepping for CR?

Thursday - 5/29/2014, 5:09pm EDT

Bob Tobias on "In Depth" with Francis Rose

Download mp3

The Sept. 30 deadline for Congress to deliver a complete fiscal 2015 budget plan is still about four months away.

But with a lengthy summer recess spanning nearly the entire month of August, that leaves fewer than 40 working days for the appropriation committees on Capitol Hill to finalize agency spending levels.

That has some budget watchers already raising the possibility of a stopgap continuing resolution to fund government operations.

Bob Tobias, director of Key Executive Leadership Programs at American University told In Depth with Francis Rose agencies should start planning now.

"If I'm a leader, I should be — starting right now — thinking about what the possibilities are," Tobias said.

While budget planning isn't quite as chaotic as last year — when the mandatory, across-the-board sequestration cuts kicked in — agency managers can still draw parallels to their experiences then, Tobias said.

Those agencies that had planned far enough in advance were able to reduce or negate altogether the need to furlough employees, he explained.

"Those who had their head in the sand had large numbers of furlough days because they thought it wouldn't happen," Tobias said. "So, those agencies who are thinking about the continuing resolution now and have several contingencies in mind, will be the best able to face whatever occurs."

Time and energy wasted in CR planning

Still, for federal agencies, the uncertainty over whether they'll have to make do with a stopgap funding measure instead of a finalized budget is far from ideal, Tobias said.

In addition to the inconvenience and inefficiency of budgeting by CR, "there's a huge amount of time and energy wasted when, if the budget was in place, they would be focusing on the present, not trying to anticipate what might happen," Tobias said.

"I find it ironic that many of those in Congress who say that the government ought be run like a business are willing to throw roadblocks in running the government like a business," he added. "No business would go for months without a budget and be forced to plan without a budget."

The normally thorny appropriations process was supposed to be eased this year because the bipartisan budget deal reached by lawmakers last December set top-line funding figures covering the next two years.

"Yes, they are set," Tobias said. "But [in the fiscal 2015 budget request], the President asked for more in a lot of agencies, and he asked to redistribute to some agencies — so all of that's up for grabs."

Still, the House is making progress.

Of the 12 annual spending bills, the House has passed two of them and is set to approve a third — providing funding for the Departments of Commerce and Justice and other related agencies — Thursday.

At this time last year, with the appropriations process snarled by sequestration, the House hadn't approved a single appropriations bill.

RELATED STORIES:

House tries to get appropriations bills on track

With budget agreement nearly a done deal, focus turns to appropriations

Sequestration snarling 2014 budget process