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Survey: OMB's 2015 budget targets difficult to meet

Nov. 20, 2013 - 07:07PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments

Federal agency budget officers are struggling to meet White House orders to spell out fresh spending cuts and combat program overlap in their fiscal 2015 budget submissions, the findings of a new survey suggest.

Out of 145 budget professionals who responded to the online survey by consultant Grant Thornton, 39 percent said it will be“difficult but doable” to identify spending cuts as much as 10 percent below a benchmark for this year, while another 28 percent said that “there is nothing left to cut” in the wake of earlier reductions.

Similarly, 46 percent said it will be “somewhat difficult” to find ways to reduce program “fragmentation, overlap and duplication” as instructed by the Office of Management and Budget; 25 percent rated the odds as “very difficult.”

The unscientific survey was carried out by Grant Thornton in collaboration with the American Association for Budget and Program Analysis (AABPA); it is slated for official release Wednesday at an association breakfast at George Washington University in Washington.

In a May memo, OMB Director Sylvia Burwell told agencies to follow two scenarios in crafting their 2015 budget submissions: Pinpoint specific reductions that would add up to a 5 percent cut in discretionary spending below what OMB proposed giving them for 2015 in its budget request released this April and then spell out additional cuts amounting to a 10 percent reduction below the same threshold.

Agencies’ proposals will give President Obama the options needed “to make the hard choices necessary to adhere to the [Budget Control Act’s] discretionary funding levels, invest in priority areas, and focus on programs that work,” Burwell wote.

For the first, time, agencies are also supposed to add a separate section recommending how to deal with overlap and fragmentation in their programs. Those recommendations should also address Government Accountability Office suggestions in the same area, Burwell said.

Complicating agencies’ 2015 budget planning is that they are operating under a stop-gap continuing resolution that keeps spending at fiscal 2013 post-sequester levels. That CR expires in mid-January, or less than three weeks before the Obama administration is supposed to release its 2015 budget request. A House-Senate committee is working to come up with a full-year 2014 spending deal by mid-December. Assuming that the panel reaches agreement, it could also head off a second sequester likely to take effect in January.

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