In Ring 1: Fiscal Year 2009. The first ring is the current year budget, which will be fiscal year 2009 when the new president takes office. Spending in the remaining 9 months of that fiscal year generally will be hard to influence, except on the margins. Contracting and hiring can be frozen temporarily by incoming appointees until they get their feet on the ground, but for the most part, the spending cycle will be pretty much on autopilot. The greatest influence will be in the execution of the budget elements that had been adopted by Congress in the previous year: Can performance be measured? What can be learned to improve operations and performance in the upcoming budget year?
In Ring 2: Fiscal Year 2010. The second ring is the coming year’s budget (fiscal year 2010, starting in October 2009), which will have been prepared by outgoing President Bush and left for the new president to add his or her revisions, to be submitted to Congress just weeks after the Inauguration. Again, there will be little opportunity to make fundamental changes to the decisions that were made in the bowels of agencies almost a year earlier. Oftentimes, the outgoing president as a courtesy prepares a “current services budget,” which assumes no new policy initiatives, and just funds programs at existing levels. This can give the incoming president some wiggle room to offer new initiatives on top of the existing base of government services. Still, the new spending proposals won’t go into effect for almost another year. The greatest influence will likely be by White House policy councils and the Office of Management and Budget because most agencies leaders will not yet be in place.
In Ring 3: Fiscal Year 2011. The third ring is the following year’s budget (fiscal year 2011, starting in October 2010). The agencies will start working on their budget submission for that year in February 2009 – just weeks after the new president takes office . . . . and, oftentimes, months before the new group of mid-level political appointees arrive to provide direction. Still, this will be the first budget the new administration will have the full ability to craft, from the ground up, with its more detailed agenda. The new agency leaders, once in place, will be able to redirect the activities that may have already begun before they got there.
The implication of the drawn-out budget process is that the new president’s administration will be half-over before having his or her spending priorities reflected in “money on the ground” that his or her administration developed. And that leaves only one more complete budget cycle before the next election.
A four-year term seems long, but not for budgeters! This drawn-out “opportunity for impact” oftentimes seems to be a surprise to incoming political appointees, especially if they come from the private sector and are used to being able to redirect priorities quickly.
Are there other administrative “surprises” that an incoming Administration can expect?