OMB looking for budgets that are data driven

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The Office of Management and Budget wants next year’s federal agency budget submissions to be more data driven than they’ve been in past years. Our next guest says that’s fine in principle, but the whole idea rests on the notion that agencies have high quality data to support their programs in the first place. Larry Allen is president of Allen Federal Business Partners, and he joins the Federal Drive with Tom Temin to talk more.

Interview transcript:

Jared Serbu: And Larry, just for folks who might have missed it last week, we reported that OMB is, in its budget guidance asked agencies to support all their budget submissions for FY ’24 with specific evidence. I know you’ve got some thoughts on that, including some concerns. In what ways could this go sideways?

Larry Allen: Jared, everybody would like their decisions to be data driven, and based on good evidence. But in the federal world, we know that federal data isn’t always the most accurate or most complete. For example, if you look at the Federal Procurement Data System, most contractors know that that’s garbage-in, garbage-out data. I don’t mean that to be pejorative, but it’s kind of a well-known thing. So if you’re looking at federal agencies that are capturing data, and then going to be using it for decision making, you have to make sure that the data that you’re capturing and using is actually accurate. And one of the things that I’m concerned about is, look, anytime you go online and search on data problems, and federal agencies, you end up getting more hits than a Nationals pitcher in the first inning. So I think there’s reason to be concerned, I would advise that agencies might want to use evidence-based decision making to a certain extent, but realize that their evidence may not be as infallible as they might like it to be.

Jared Serbu: Yeah, and I guess a lot of this is just in the interpretation that agencies take away from the guidance, right, but I mean, OMB is fairly clear in saying they want them to use evidence “where it exists.” But I guess one positive outcome from this might be that agencies actually use this as an exercise to beef up their ability to generate good data to inform future submissions.

Larry Allen: And actually, that’s one of the things that I think is hopeful about this story, Jared. And that is that OMB has directed agencies to come up with a four-year plan on how to improve their data capture and use. And that’s at a strategic level. So I think there’s reason to be hopeful. Look, we all want the government to make good decisions, we all want government agencies to make, have sound decision-making processes. So it’s not with not any great joy that I have a dose of skepticism about where we are currently. But hopefully, with the strategic plan, and with more strategic time to get it down over the next four years, that’ll end up getting everybody in a better place.

Jared Serbu: That same guidance also tells agencies to get ready for a potential 5% across-the-board budget cut in that same year fiscal ’24. Well, it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a 5% budget cut. But the idea here is essentially just ask for ideas. What would you do if such a cut were directed? How ominous is that? I mean, does that tell us that OMB is actually expecting that?

Larry Allen: Jared, I don’t know that OMB is actually expecting that. My understanding talking to people in government is that it’s not uncommon for OMB to ask for ideas on where money can be saved. But I think you have to look forward to see what might happen in the midterm elections. And if there might be some additional political pressure, put on the executive branch to come up with some areas to trim spending. So if you’re a government agency, that’s important to understand, if you’re a government contractor, it’s really important to understand, even though it might not happen, you want to be aware of where agencies are saying they might be able to get savings. And if it’s in your program, you want to be prepared for that.

Jared Serbu: Pivoting to another topic. Another issue that we covered here at Federal News Network last week, is a recommendation from the Defense Business Board, and DoD seems to be on board with extending the pilot program, the mentor-protégé program, essentially permanently. I gather, you think that’s a good idea?

Larry Allen: Jared, I think the mentor-protégé program is one of those programs that’s worked really, really well. It actually kind of took me by surprise that it wasn’t already permanent, because it’s been part of the lexicon for a very long period of time. So the idea that you would make the program permanent, I think is a good thing. It’s been a pilot. It’s been a pilot for 30 years. Boy, I don’t know any pilot with 30 years experience flying commercially, they’ve got the good routes. So hopefully that’ll happen with a mentor-protégé program. I thought the Defense Business Board did a nice job. They talked about some recommendations for tightening the program up. But the amount of benefit that accrues to small businesses, the protégés, but also, the larger businesses, I think is really a good news story in government contracting. So I think that making this permanent is great. And, one of the really good news stories, Jared, that doesn’t always get talked about is a lot of former protégés that have graduated from the program. They’ve now turned around and become mentors, to new protégé companies. And anytime that you can show that, that’s a really good thing to say.

Jared Serbu: DoD obviously, has quite a few entry points for small businesses and small business programs. What’s right about this one specifically?

Larry Allen: Well, I think one of the things that’s right about this one, Jared, is that you get to have some small business set aside, contracting with a mentor helping you, limited competition in some cases, sole source, with a large business mentor helping you. One of the other things that you get is the experience from that mentor how to run the traps necessary to be successful in federal business. So it’s some of, that’s the process. The other thing that a protégé gets from the mentor is the whole part about relationship building and the role that relationship building plays in becoming a successful government contractor. So properly done, a protégé can learn a lot from its mentor, while at the same time benefiting larger companies that have an opportunity to participate on business that they might not otherwise have a chance to bid on.

Jared Serbu: All right. Larry Allen is the president of Allen Federal Business Partners. Larry, thanks as always for sharing your insights.

Larry Allen: Hey, Jared, thanks very much, and I wish your listeners happy selling.

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