By design, developing a federal budget can be messy. The process involves a host of varied factors, along with multiple parts of the Executive Branch and lawmakers in the Legislative Branch, each with a different vision of the end goal.
Doug Criscitello, former chief financial officer at Housing and Urban Development, advises federal managers to treat the budget process like baseball. “Warm up first. Start with programs with good data,” he said on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
Evidence-based decision-making has become increasingly important, given the restrictive budget climate.
Congress and the Office of Management and Budget want concrete evidence that a program has good value and future prospects. They need data and analysis showing a program works and is worthy of taxpayer dollars.
OMB asked agencies to use evidence in developing fiscal 2015 budget proposals. In a memo, then-OMB Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell said agencies should allocate resources to programs that are shown to be effective. At the same time, they should trim those that do not have supporting evidence proving their success.
“We definitely don’t want to be throwing money at programs that have no chance for success,” Criscitello said, who is now the executive director of the Center for Finance and Policy at MIT.
That’s where pop-ups come into (or really, go out of) play. Criscitello calls redundant and duplicative programs “easy pop-ups,” which agencies should consolidate or eliminate.
Duplicative programs have long haunted agencies and been a sticking point for Congress. The Government Accountability Office found recently that OMB lacks consistent data on all agency programs, which can make it impossible to identify overlaps.
In looking at which programs to defund or eliminate, Criscitello said federal managers should take a neutral approach, like an umpire.
“You can be passionate about your agency’s mission, but be dispassionate about the individual programs,” he said. “What’s working, and what isn’t?”
Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, it’s still imperative that federal managers understand the budget process and the role they play in it, Criscitello said.
“Build bridges to the budget community, no matter where you work,” he said. That includes budget officers within the agency, such as chief financial officers, along with members of the Budget and Appropriations committees on Capitol Hill.
“It’s really essential that feds understand the process, and know how to influence it, ultimately,” Criscitello said.