Trump’s 2020 budget proposal offers up ‘historic’ spending cuts to civilian agencies

Many civilian agencies, with the exception of the Departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, would see double-digit spending cuts under the Presiden...

The Trump administration on Monday recommended more than $2.7 trillion in spending reductions over the next 10 years as part of its 2020 budget request.

The bulk of those spending reductions would come from what amounts to a 9 percent budget cut, on average, for civilian agencies.

“This budget contains nearly $2.7 trillion in savings, more spending reductions than any administration in history,” Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters Monday afternoon. “This budget will balance in 15 years. Last year, President Trump directed agencies to meet a target of a 5 percent reduction to non-defense discretionary spending. I’m proud to report to you today that we have achieved that target.”

The Office of Management and Budget offered a snapshot of the President’s plans for the 2020 budget on Monday. A summary of that request is out now; OMB is expected to release more detail next Monday.

Like the previous two years, deep cuts to civilian agency spending in 2020 is at the cornerstone of the latest request from President Donald Trump.

The President’s request makes no changes to the discretionary spending caps set into law under the Budget Control Act of 2011, instead opting to make significant cuts to non-defense agencies.

In fiscal 2020, the BCA caps for non-defense agencies are set at $543 billion. The administration, in turn, is requesting roughly $543 billion for civilian agencies in 2020, as well as additional funds for disaster relief and wildfire suppression programs.

That’s a dramatic turn from the $597 billion figure Congress recently implemented for non-defense agencies in 2019, for a drop of 9 percent.

Defense spending, however, would increase significantly, mostly through the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, under the President’s proposed 2020 budget.

Therefore, the White House will, once again, try to reverse years of budget parity between defense and non-defense agencies.

“We are signaling in this budget that the paradigm of a dollar of non-defense increase for every dollar of defense is no longer, and hasn’t been for some time, affordable for this country,” a senior administration official told reporters Monday morning.

Of course, this isn’t the first time civilian agencies have faced the prospect of double-digit spending cuts. Trump’s previous two budget proposals made similar requests, but Congress ultimately made significantly higher appropriations for those agencies.

The President’s budget proposal is merely a request that outlines his priorities for the executive branch. Still, the latest proposal from the White House will set up a heated battle with Congress in the coming months. Lawmakers — particularly Democrats — have and will continue to balk at the White House’s plans to forgo parity between defense and civilian agency spending.

And many Democrats have already dismissed the President’s request.

“The President’s budget means nothing,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) told members of the Federal Managers Association and National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association at their legislative conference before the request was even released Monday morning.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) called the President’s request a “fantasy document.”

“We believe that every budget is an opportunity to put forward our vision of the next 10 years,” Vought said. “We are doing that in this budget, and we are saying to the American people we can no longer afford the paradigm that Congress keeps giving us.”

Deep spending cuts for civilian agencies

Under the President’s 2020 budget, agencies such as the Education, Interior, Transportation and State Departments, would see double-digit budget cuts.

The Education Department, for example, would see a 10 percent reduction. The President’s budget also proposes an elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The program allows some federal employees and others to have a portion of their student loans forgiven if they commit a certain number of years to public service.

The President has a 14 percent spending cut planned for the Interior Department. The department would, however, receive an additional $28 million to reorganize and establish 12 new unified regions across all of Interior’s bureaus.

The Environmental Protection Agency would see a 31 percent slash in spending under the new proposal.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development would see a 16.4 percent budget cut. The Department of Health and Human Services would get a 12 percent spending reduction.

The Commerce Department would see a 9.3 percent budget increase from the previous year’s spending estimates, including a $7.2 billion request to support the Decennial Census.

The only civilian agencies that would experience a boost in funding in 2020 are the Departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

VA would receive a 7.5 percent boost in mandatory funding over 2019’s enacted spending levels, including $80.2 billion for the department’s medical care requirements.

The department would also receive an additional $200 million in IT spending to recapitalize an aging network infrastructure, expedite VA’s transition to the cloud and support VA MISSION Act requirements, according to the proposal.

VA is also requesting $1.6 billion for electronic health record modernization in 2020, a 6 percent boost over the previous year’s budget. The first VA medical centers in the Pacific Northwest are scheduled to achieve initial operating capability on the new record within a year.

“The 6 percent, the increase that we have, we’ve determined to be adequate,” Jon Rychalski, VA’s chief financial officer, said of the EHR budget request during a call with reporters Monday afternoon. “It will certainly change as we get into the electronic health record and some of those things, so it’s a pretty robust increase.”

DHS, meanwhile, would receive $8.6 billion to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S. southern border — in addition to the nearly $6 billion the White House has said it would draw from military construction funding and other sources when the President declared a national emergency last month.

In addition, the President is requesting $192 million to hire 750 Border Patrol agents and 171 CBP officers and support staff.

The 2020 budget proposal also includes funding for DHS to hire 150 new cybersecurity employees under the department’s Cyber Talent Management System. DHS has been developing a new personnel system for cybersecurity professionals over the past few years, which would authorize the department to use a variety of new tools to recruit, hire and pay its employees that’s a departure from the traditional General Schedule and Title 5.

The General Services Administration, whose budget request reflects the administration’s proposed merger with the Office of Personnel Management, recommended $25.9 million in investments to support the management of the Federal IT dashboard and an additional $58.4 million for the Federal Citizen Services Fund.

GSA’s request also includes $26.9 million for the agency’s real and personal property disposal offices.

In addition, a series of now familiar proposals to the federal retirement system, which the President has recommended for a third consecutive year, also contribute a small part to what the White House has described as the most proposed spending cuts of any administration in history.

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