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Agency discretionary budget requests for fiscal 2024 should run the gamut of the Biden administration’s management priorities from equity and diversity to customer experience to the federal workforce.
There are requirements in the 2024 budget guidance from the Office of Management and Budget to continue to build talent teams, to prepare for the future of work by reducing or consolidating office space and there is an entire appendix on combating climate change through investments.
One of the biggest pushes for 2024, however, is around evidence-based decision making. OMB is telling agencies to do more to build up their skillsets and capabilities to build “credible, relevant evidence that is critical for decision-making on agency priorities that are built into their budget submission to OMB,” the White House’s July 1 budget guidance, which Federal News Network obtained, stated.
It’s not new that OMB and Congress want evidence to be the basis for all budget decisions. It has been a long-standing goal of Congress starting with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993 and several other bills over the next almost three decades.
The latest attempt to push agencies toward that goal is the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act of 2018, which became law in January 2019. OMB doubled down on the law by tying the federal data strategy to it and then required agencies to develop a strategic plan for evidence-building that will last through fiscal 2026.
“The fiscal 2024 President’s Budget development process will prioritize relying on evidence when assessing budget justifications. Agencies should use evidence when it exists to inform budget proposals, and the evidence submission is an opportunity for agencies to highlight funding gaps in service of evidence-based policymaking,” the guidance stated. “The fiscal 2024 evidence submission, part of the agency budget request to OMB, is an opportunity for agencies to highlight proposals for improving their capacity for evidence-based policymaking and priority proposals for building credible, relevant evidence that is critical for decision-making on agency priorities that are built into their budget submission to OMB.”
Seeking ideas to reduce budgets
OMB set a Sept. 12 deadline for the 2024 requests. Typically, OMB will meet with and review the budget proposals over the following two months before sending the “passback” in November, usually right before Thanksgiving, to agencies with mostly final decisions.
The 2024 budget guidance offers few new or surprising requirements. It does, like in many previous years, ask agencies to submit a separate request that includes a 5% across-the-board discretionary reduction on everything but those funds included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“It is important for agencies to provide a budget at guidance, to give the President options to sustain or augment critical investments and respond to emerging needs,” the guidance stated. “If an agency wants to provide budget options that deviate from this guidance, they may be provided as an appendix to your formal submission.”
To be clear, the 5% reduction are just ideas and the administration hasn’t yet signaled its budget plans for 2024.
What is clear from this guidance is how agencies are supposed to prioritize evidence-based decision making.
As part of their planning, OMB told agencies to identify up to five “highest-priority proposals” to use evidence and evaluation, statistics, performance and other analysis to improve.
“Agencies are encouraged to focus on proposals that advance evaluation, statistics, performance management and other analytic activities where capacity or capabilities are insufficient to meet agency needs for evidence-building, evidence use, and data-driven management, particularly when compared to other agency functions,” OMB stated.
Invest in learning agendas
The second requirement under the evidence section is for agencies to submit up to three proposals for which they will carry out program evaluations.
“The focus of these proposals should be to build rigorous evidence to improve policies, programs, operations, service delivery, regulations or other government functions,” OMB stated.
Finally, OMB wants agencies to tie all of this back to their learning agendas.
While many agencies are still at the beginning stages of implementing these efforts, OMB says the 2024 request should include a discussion of challenges and proposed solutions to making progress with their learning agenda.
“Agencies may also highlight conditions and factors that may prevent them from executing priority evidence-building activities identified in their learning agenda or annual evaluation plans,” the document stated. “OMB is also interested in learning if an agency has identified any activities in their learning agenda or evaluation plans as being particularly well-suited for partnership(s) or execution by external parties without direct federal financial support.”
Outside of the evidence section, OMB’s budget guidance continues to push agencies down a well-traveled road.
It highlights the need for IT modernization and cybersecurity emphasizing the continued focus on the move toward a zero trust architecture and protecting high-value assets.
The guidance tells agencies to continue to address workforce issues ranging from the expansion of talent teams and internships to advancing the Trusted Workforce 2.0 initiative to addressing office space needs.
The investments in the talent teams should rely on:
Data dashboards and data-driven identification of the agency’s human capital needs and capacity gaps (including mission-critical and mission-support needs), helping to inform the agency’s Talent Team focus areas, human-capital program evaluation, and the agency’s human capital operating plan and HRStat reviews;
Positions that support Talent Teams and human-capital functions (e.g., industrial organizational psychologists, recruitment program managers, and data analysts);
Additional assessments of agency hiring to drive quality hires; and
Robust human capital programs within the agency — e.g., data, tools and funding for recruitment and retention flexibilities including child care subsidies, student loan repayment, and other tools.
The future of federal buildings and office space could have more clarity by 2024, which is why OMB is asking agencies to reimagine their workplaces and better understand current and future workplace trends.
OMB says the 2024 budget submission should identify:
The specific action(s) proposed (lease cancellation, renovation or repair and alteration, consolidation, disposal), inclusive of funding process;
The work model adopted within the space, and the details in support of the required resources, including: build-out, IT and telecom cabling, furniture, and move; and
Projected cost savings and/or costs avoided over a 10-year period.
The budget guidance also has a lengthy section around customer experience, combating climate change and ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion in federal services.
Like with any budget this guidance, this begins a long process that likely will not come to completion until early next fall in the best case scenario. But what the guidance is one of the best policy documents the Biden administration has released in its first 18 months.