DHS, DoD asking OMB for sequestration reprogramming authority

Friday - 4/19/2013, 5:50am EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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Several agencies are about to or already have submitted a request to the Office of Management and Budget to reprogram funds that would soften across-the-board cuts under sequestration.

Homeland Security, Defense and USDA are among the departments going down this path.

OMB has encouraged agencies to use every tool in the toolbox to deal with sequestration cuts. Now that the 2013 spending bill is completed, many departments are reviewing where their accounts could be manipulated to ease cuts elsewhere in the agency.

Jon Etherton, president of Etherton and Associates, follows the DoD budget closely. He said the Pentagon has a $4 billion cap under this transfer authority.

"The general transfer authority is between accounts so you may have some within account transfers that can be accommodated, as I understand it, without bumping up against the $4 billion ceiling. So that's another factor that needs to be worked into the conversation," Etherton said Wednesday at the Coalition for Government Procurement's conference in Arlington, Va. "I know a few years ago in one of the reports, the Appropriations Committee was bemoaning the fact the department, the year before, had actually requested transfers of $15 billion, which is well above their general transfer authority. Again, they were able to do that in some cases by using the authority within the accounts to move money around and so I think that may, around the edges, make it a little more manageable."

He said that is one of several pieces that still needs to fall in place to really understand the impact of sequestration on DoD. He said by mid-June several of those pieces should be completed, including how Congress will deal with the debt ceiling, once again.

A request to OMB for more details on how many agencies or which ones have requested reprogramming authority was not answered.

Homeland Security in same boat as DoD

DHS is facing a similar situation as DoD. It's the largest civilian agency with a budget request for fiscal 2014 of $60 billion, including $48.5 billion in discretionary spending.

Janet Napolitano, secretary, Department of Homeland Security

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said for the third straight year DHS' budget request is lower than the enacted budget of the current year. She told the House Homeland Security Committee Thursday that the 2014 request is more than $800 million less than 2013.

Part of how DHS is doing more with less is through a risk-based approach across all of its mission areas.

But sequestration will take about a $3 billion bite out of the 2013 funds, affecting every directorate.

"We've already gone through the sequestration legislation, the budget that was finally appropriated with the add-on for the Customs and Border Protection," she said. "We've identified some reprogramming requests we'd like to add to that. We hope to get those complete and into the OMB by the end of the week, and move that process along as quickly as we can."

The reprogramming request, in part, will try to further minimize the effect sequestration cuts would have on Border Patrol agents, including cuts to overtime and furloughs. Congress offered some relief in the 2013 spending bill.

Napolitano couldn't give lawmakers a time table for when the reprogramming of funds would be available to deal with sequestration issues.

A request to the DHS press office for more details on the reprogramming request was not returned.

At the Labor Department, while it has not requested reprogramming authority, it's still trying to figure out how cuts from sequestration will impact employee furloughs.

Alex Bastani, the American Federation of Government Employees union representative for Labor employees, said by email the agency and union have a memorandum of understanding about furloughs, but the exact number of employees that will have to take time off still is being firmed up.

He said about one-third of Labor's programs face furloughs, but that could increase as the 2013 budget requires all but two of the agency's programs to cut an additional 1 percent so there may be some more furloughs expected.

"Those plans are at OMB right now, so we may not know about the additional furloughs until May 1," he said.

Even with the reprogramming requests, agencies will feel the bite of the sequester.

Napolitano said the Coast Guard's work to stop drugs from coming into the country is under pressure.

"How do we compensate for that? We are working with DoD we are trying to leverage more with state and local entities, but make no mistake, if sequester continues, by definition there will be an effect on the drug interdiction capability of the Coast Guard," she said.

More broadly, Napolitano said sustained cuts at sequester levels would affect contracts, mission and its people.

The morale of DHS' workforce came up at the hearing as well. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the committee, wanted to know what Napolitano was doing to change the mood of employees for the better.

The most recent Employee Viewpoint Survey ranked DHS at or near the bottom in many categories.

"We have done a number of things in that regard including forming an executive steering committee just on morale. We've actually gone back and re-questioned some of our employees because the morale survey is pretty generic, so we want to get down below it," she said. "One of the things we found out, for example, is in the department many people had been promoted to be a front-line supervisor because they were good at their operational front line job, but they hadn't necessary received any training on how to be a front-line supervisor. That makes a big difference. That's an additional skill-set. Now we are providing that kind of training."

DHS also is getting more employee input into the decisions of the department.

St. Elizabeth's campus construction in 2014 budget request

One challenge every DHS secretary has faced is the disconnected nature of the department in terms of office space.

So, DHS headquarters at St. Elizabeth's campus in Washington comes back into focus in the 2014 budget request. DHS asked for almost $93 million for construction, including supporting phase 2 of the renovation of the center building complex for the secretary and other key headquarters functions, such as command, control and management.

DHS also would like to take over the management of the ports of entry from the General Services Administration from a landlord perspective.

Napolitano said DHS continues to look for administrative savings. She said the work started in 2009 to make the department more efficient would save another $1.3 billion in 2014 with a big chunk coming from the consolidation of 18 grant-making programs.

DHS, which has saved or avoided spending $4 billion since 2009, continues to spend too much on administrating the assortment of grant programs, Napolitano said.

Napolitano said the consolidation would save money and help focus the grants on risk and gaps in the state and local communities. This is the second consecutive year it has made the request to consolidate the grant programs.

One area where DHS is having success convincing Congress to spend more money is cybersecurity. DHS is asking for $800 million for the National Protection and Programs Directorate's cyber efforts in the proposed 2014 budget.

For example, DHS is requesting $27 million for the new Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis. This entity would take the data from the Office of Infrastructure Protection and the Cybersecurity and Communications Office and analyze it for threats and vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure systems.

"It's really designed to help us meet our responsibilities under the executive order and President's Policy Directive, and that is information sharing with the private sector and the government," she said. "Part of that is in NPPD and part of that is in other parts of the department, and we really want to centralize in one place given our central role in the analytics involved in cyber. The office probably will be larger than the $27 million office, but that is the number we put on to make sure that's what we actually had."

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