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Thread: Budget Wonk 101

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
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    Budget Wonk 101

    I feel like I am answering the same questions about budget and appropriations over and over depending on which agency flavor folks here are following. At a certain level, the budget/appropriations affects all agencies the same way although individual results may vary. Thought I would try to get it all in one place with an emphasis on how this effects your hiring chances. Should start out by saying not much. You are hired against a set of standards which you have to meet against other competitive applicants. Clearly, not enough money means no one moves forward and a lot of money means many move forward. This may affect the rate at which you process but does not affect where you stand against others.

    Agency/Administration: At any given time, the agency has three budgets in process. They are executing the current funding, working on the next FY appropriation and developing the budget for the fiscal year after that. You are hired based on the execution of the money in hand or the current FY. You are processed based on an analysis of prior year patterns and developing opportunities in the current year and out years (years following the current one). In general, agencies submit to their departments a three part request - what they got the previous year, changes up or down that they would like and what it would take to maintain current levels (MCL). Generally, agencies which do not get about a 6.5% increase cannot maintain current levels given inflationary factors (raises, costs, etc.). Agencies do not ask for the moon here. There are limits on what you could process given existing facilities and resources and you have to be mindful of your ability to sustain support in the out years. Hire too heavily and run into a lean period and absorbing increasing personnel costs will leave you with bad cars, equipment, training and operations.

    Department wrangles with the agency through a process called passback and when they decide it goes to OMB where you wrangle some more. Ultimately this yields the President's request. Then your command staff will testify before both the oversight committee for your agency which will create an authorization level and then before the appropriations subcommittee which will decide what to recommend. Although all money bills begin in the House, you will do this four times. Authorization in the House and Senate; Appropriations in both. Important note here, that testimony is in support of the President's request. If he proposed to close your agency, that will be the testimony given by your director or administrator. Somehow both houses and all relevant committees get to know what you really want, but other than putting on the record what POTUS wants for you this is not what actually may happen.

    In execution, the agency is spending and they can with limits reprogram some money around. Got to be careful with reprogramming to hire since chances of getting it in the out years are to some extent lessened. Certain re programmings may require approval from your appropriations subcommittee. Neither a routine nor a desirable place to go. Also not worth doing the sort of silly math that we sometimes do. Typically, we do not cease all background investigations or fire all left handed people or make the director work out of a cardboard box because 1. that would be stupid 2. these are small costs in the overall picture. 3. It is against the freakin' law.

    Agency does not request in terms of so many 5, 7, 9, 13 level positions. Uses a formula called a full time equivalent (FTE) sort of a mean cost - far more than a 5 costs, perhaps a bit less than a 13. Includes certain attendant costs such as training, benefits and others. This is a cost agencies need to revisit from time to time to ensure it accurately reflects the real costs in having a person on the payroll. In lean years, Congress may give raises but expect the agency to cover them without additional funding. If it happens for several years that FTE formula will be seriously out of whack. FTEs are funny creatures. They represent a person employed for a full year. Hire them January 1 and it works out by December 31. Hire in June and you can fund 2 real positions with the one FTE. Hire elsewhere in the year and you can get 1 1/2 or 4. Trick is they will all be back the next year, so watch your attrition rates and how the outyear funding is shaping up. Agencies have positions authorized tables that carefully crosswalk the construct to real folks. A very healthy divide in a law enforcement agency is to be funded at about 60-40 with the 40% being discretionary, operational money and the 60% being fixed costs such as personnel. When I talk about erosion or base erosion it is a cycle of dipping into the 40 to support what had been the 60. Get toward 70-30 you are on the edge of disaster in that you are getting to the point where you will increasingly constrain ops, equipment, training and without either serious budget discipline (absorbing rather than filling vacancies) or appropriations help you are becoming crippled. Almost always means no hiring.

    Nor are all chips on the table in terms of funding. You may have reimbursable agreements with other agencies (DOD, State) or funding from other programs (GSA for building, OCDETF for personnel) which are playing out in their processes. Agencies run by smart people do not bet FTEs on these supplemental sources, preferring to ensure folks are covered in the base.

    Applicants may watch these developments as good citizens and to determine what priorities the administration, agency and authorization committees have in mind. Won't give you the answer as to how many but may tell you that most of the positions are likely to go to the Southwest Border or be deployed in Iraq as reverse suicide bombers. May refocus your area of interest.

    Meanwhile Back on the Hill

    House and Senate are overseeing how you are doing operationally and fiscally on the current budget. May be entertaining supplemental funding or planning new legislation which would have additional authorization which may or may not get funded. Appropriations committees are getting 302b's which is the amount they have to divvy up among their areas of responsibility. Oversight committees are taking testimony and information to set a road map. Early in calendar year (March-ish) appropriations committee is taking testimony in support of the president's request and prying into what you really want. Out of this, appropriations subcommittees will vote out bills which will go to the House and Senate for action. May get referred back but eventually should result in a figure. Problem is House and Senate usually disagree with POTUS and each other. Normal route will be to vote out an appropriation and then either decide to agree with the other house of Congress or to go to a conference committee (Members of Senate and House agree to some figure). Goes back to each House for a floor vote and then on to POTUS. POTUS may sign, may veto. Process typically stalls in all this and goes beyond the start of the new FY. Get a Continuing Resolution. CR can be at any level but often is authorization to spend at the previous year's level quarter by quarter. If you have been paying attention your preferred agency is now 6.5% short of what it had to spend the previous year. Other committees may vote raises or your appropriations or oversight committee may earmark (tell you what to spend on X in Y location). If this does not come with additional funding to support it, these actions will create base erosion in the out years as agencies cannibalize operations and support to keep people employed. This all affects what you can do that you started out wanting to do. Sometimes process gets so stalled that rather than go after individual appropriations they roll them all up into an Omnibus Appropriations Bill. Better hope your agency Congressional Staff is all that on tracking what happens here. Can be last years funding all over again, could be more, could be lots more.

    In general you are authorized and overseen by a legislative committee, one that reviews proposed laws in the jurisdiction of the agencies it has oversight of and oversees operations. DOJ agencies belong to the Judiciary Committees of the House and Senate for this. In short, authorizing is an action taken by a committee which passes laws but may not spend money. Appropriations committees can spend money but should not be passing on laws (line blurs here because appropriations committees often pass limits on how money can be spent that in effect nullifies or encourages enforcement of laws). An authorizing committee may pass to full Senate and House a bill they have reviewed and approved banning yellow bicycles, may process a decision to authorize an agency to spend X dollars to enforce a ban on yellow bicycles and may hold hearings on how you are doing with that yellow bicycle thingy.) An appropriations committee may vote funding to an agency to ban yellow bicycles, may hold hearings on the effectiveness of that spending to get yellow bicycles off the street or may pass funding that says "no funding under this or any other appropriation may be spent to identify yellow bicycles." If the full House and Senate agree and the President signs we will have a law against yellow bicycles, an agency responsible for yellow bicycles and a prohibition that prevents the agency from actually getting rid of yellow bicycles. Such happens. Fortunately in areas like yellow bicycles where nobody really wanted to do it anyway but it was politically valuable to do it this way. (ATF has no authority to create a national registry of all firearms owned in the U.S., but has had language prohibiting it from spending money to do it in every appropriation I ever saw. Makes the gun nut bags incrementally happier and is fine with ATF. Please prohibit me from doing what I cannot do).

    Again tracking this is more confusing than enlightening until real dollars are both appropriated and President signs. May see some opportunities opening up for agencies and may decide you want out of an application with an agency given what is shaping up (ICE will work only Jordache jean fakes and everybody will go to Detroit to do it).

    Also, not really important to determine whether an agency getting + $600 million, since what matters is whether that money is more than a 6.5% increase over the previous year.

    Generally a lot of paper, a lot of hearings, a lot of votes and passing or not passing but the ball to keep your eye on is the actual appropriations votes by the full houses. Remember that on the full floor, amendments, substitutions and changes can be offered, rejected or accepted changing the whole picture.Ultimately, may not predict what will happen to you but will predict whether a lot, a little or no significant hiring will be done absent a supplemental or funding of a new bill. Very important that you understand the difference between a budget request, an authorization and an actual appropriation. First two may be signals and show strategies and emphasis, only the latter puts reporting packets in the mail.

    I'll put this up as a sticky and close it. We can all discuss in other threads. I'll leave GPRA, PART, CFO Act, Strategic plans, IG and GAO audits, and Performance Measures, all of which impact this process, for another day.

    If you want to know more than you are getting from the news media. Thomas.gov should be in your browser bookmarks. Can go to the Appropriations link on the home page. I've also found 0pencongress.org an excellent tool.

    Adding a note, Thomas.gov is being replaced by a new site, Congress.gov at the end of 2013.
    Last edited by ATF SAC; 12-11-2013 at 18:40.
    ret.

  2. #2
    Join Date
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    Budget Timeline

    Putting the above into a rough timeline:

    October 1: Begin new FY. At this point, agencies have been working with their Department and OMB in formulating the request for the following FY. If an appropriation for the current year has not been passed, then a Continuing Resolution or temporary spending bill has been enacted. Several of these is typical

    January: A quarter of the FY has passed. If no appropriation has been enacted for the current year, this is generally when an omnibus or roll up bill of whatever agencies funding has not been enacted will be developed and passed.

    February: President submits his Budget Request to Congress for the FY which will begin on October 1.

    March - June: Congress will vote on its high level spending agreement, called 302a and then break that down to the 12 appropriations subcommittees of the House and Senate(302B). This is the decision of what will be spent across the agencies in the jurisdiction of the subcommittee. Testimony approved by the Department and OMB will be given to authorization and appropriations committees/subcommittees by agencies. Agencies get reauthorized periodically although it may not be every year.

    May - July: Subcommittees mark up (edit and revise) spending bills. Mid-year review of the active fiscal year occurs.

    July - August: Subcommittees pass appropriations, Senate and House vote. Appoint confrerees if necessary which resolve differences in conference committee. Senate and House act on conference reports. (May amend, substitute or enact rules which limit debate or amendment).

    September: Appropriations bills are passed and signed (or not). Agencies begin closing out current FY.
    Last edited by ATF SAC; 12-04-2007 at 17:25.
    ret.

  3. #3
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    A Case Study

    For folks making decisions in the agency and for applicants wondering what the next appropriation may bring, the focus is on the end of the process when real dollars are being decided. I'm going to use ICE and the 2008 funding as an example and work through getting the information and doing the math. Can do this with any agency using the same tools.

    Using Thomas.gov and the Appropriations Bill link on the center of the Home page, scroll down to the Homeland Security section and click the Senate Report.

    You will find this:

    Appropriations, 2007 1 $3,887,000,000
    Budget estimate, 2008 4,162,000,000
    Committee recommendation 2 4,401,643,000
    1 Excludes $6,000,000 in emergency appropriations pursuant to Public Law 110-28.
    2 Reflects a permanent realignment of $523,000 to USCIS for various parole programs pursuant to section 872.
    Note that ICE got an extra $6 million in 2007, which would have brought them to about 4.4 billion. Also note that as you look around you see all kinds of user fees that Congress predicts will add additional funding. Good luck with those. Can pretty much count on agencies not hiring against projected user fee revenues.

    You can flip over to the House report link and see what they recommended in the same format.

    Now go to the Consolidated Appropriations bill link (Use the House link). Funding came in at about $4.6 billion. Simple math 4.4/4.6 = 96% or about a 4% kick up in 2008. Less than the 6.5% to maintain current levels given inflationary factors.

    But:

    For necessary expenses for enforcement of immigration and customs laws, detention and removals, and investigations; and purchase and lease of up to 3,790 (2,350 for replacement only) police-type vehicles; $4,687,517,000, of which not to exceed $7,500,000 shall be available until expended for conducting special operations under section 3131 of the Customs Enforcement Act of 1986 (19 U.S.C. 2081); of which not to exceed $15,000 shall be for official reception and representation expenses; of which not to exceed $1,000,000 shall be for awards of compensation to informants, to be accounted for solely under the certificate of the Secretary of Homeland Security; of which not less than $305,000 shall be for promotion of public awareness of the child pornography tipline and anti-child exploitation activities as requested by the President; of which not less than $5,400,000 shall be used to facilitate agreements consistent with section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1357(g)); and of which not to exceed $11,216,000 shall be available to fund or reimburse other Federal agencies for the costs associated with the care, maintenance, and repatriation of smuggled illegal aliens: Provided, That of the amount provided under this heading, $516,400,000 is designated as described in section 5 (in the matter preceding division A of this consolidated Act): Provided further, That none of the funds made available under this heading shall be available to compensate any employee for overtime in an annual amount in excess of $35,000, except that the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the designee of the Secretary, may waive that amount as necessary for national security purposes and in cases of immigration emergencies: Provided further, That of the total amount provided, $15,770,000 shall be for activities to enforce laws against forced child labor in fiscal year 2008, of which not to exceed $6,000,000 shall remain available until expended: Provided further, That of the total amount provided, not less than $2,381,401,000 is for detention and removal operations: Provided further, That of the total amount provided, $200,000,000 shall remain available until September 30, 2009, to improve and modernize efforts to identify aliens convicted of a crime, sentenced to imprisonment, and who may be deportable, and remove them from the United States once they are judged deportable: Provided further, That none of the funds made available to improve and modernize efforts to identify and remove aliens convicted of a crime, sentenced to imprisonment, and who may be deportable (in this proviso referred to as criminal aliens), and remove them from the United States once they are judged deportable, shall be obligated until the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House of Representatives receive a plan for expenditure, prepared by the Secretary of Homeland Security and submitted within 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, to modernize the policies and technologies used to identify and remove criminal aliens, that--

    (1) presents a strategy for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to identify every criminal alien, at the prison, jail, or correctional institution in which they are held;

    (2) establishes the process U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice, will use to make every reasonable effort to remove, upon their release from custody, all criminal aliens judged deportable;

    (3) presents a methodology U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will use to identify and prioritize for removal criminal aliens convicted of violent crimes;

    (4) defines the activities, milestones, and resources for implementing the strategy and process described in sections (1) and (2); and

    (5) includes program measurements for progress in implementing the strategy and process described in sections (1) and (2):

    Provided further, That the Secretary of Homeland Security or a designee of the Secretary shall report to the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House of Representatives, at least quarterly, on progress implementing the expenditure plan required in the preceding proviso, and the funds obligated during that quarter to make that progress: Provided further, That the funding and staffing resources necessary to carry out the strategy and process described in sections (1) and (2) under this heading shall be identified in the President's fiscal year 2009 budget submission to Congress.
    Some can't be spent until Congress approves a spending plan, a ton is earmarked for systems and detention and removal. $16 million is for child labor enforcement. You can go through and add up these directed spends and to the extent these don't provide for additional agent positions you can subtract them from the total. I get around 242 million that pretty clearly isn't going to agent staffing, reducing the total available to right about the 4.4 that was available in 2007. Somewhat crude in that I did not bother to back out the 2007 earmarks, but unless you are actually working with the priorities and flexibilities of the agency management crude is close enough.

    Lastly, you can do some dead reckoning. If you know how much ICE spends on personnel and will in 2008 you can get more accurate, but let's presume that they are healthy. That would mean about 60% of the 4.4 billion goes to personnel and fixed costs. That is 2.6 billion. Very doubtful that over the past years since 9/11 that most agencies are that healthy. Have had to absorb increases without sufficient additional funding. However, out of that 2.6 are going to come the impact of increasing gas costs, rent, travel and the 3.5% pay raise effective January 2008.

    Does this enable any of us to predict numbers to be hired? No. Does it enable us to predict that hiring will be at or more likely less than the average of the past several years? Yes. It also indicates to folks on board already how the buy money will flow, whether a lot or fewer new cars will come and a host of workaday issues. It also helps us all see that for the moment it will be immigration, immigration, immigration at ICE (look at those earmarks and reporting requirements).

    Again, anybody can apply this to their agency. Lot of wild card factors (attrition, supplemental funding) can change things but year in and year out, what happens is tied to this flow of dollars.
    ret.


 

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