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Why we should not be overly concerned about the Trump Administration’s budget proposal

October 04, 2017

On May 16th, President Donald Trump released his budget plan for the federal government. The plan proposed sharp cuts to many governmental departments while increasing the resources available to the military and defense agencies. The details of the proposed budget are portrayed in the diagram below. [4]

By Eric Rauschkolb

Image: Proposed changes to departmental spending under the Trump administration. Source: BBCImage: Proposed changes to departmental spending under the Trump administration. Source: BBC

At first glance, these numbers are shocking. The EPA, the agency responsible for protecting human health and the environment, could see its funding fall by over 2.5 billion dollars should the budget be approved by House Republicans. The state department and USAID, who between them finance everything from diplomatic efforts abroad to healthcare improvements in foreign countries, are also expected to face major cuts. [4]

While significant, this proposal should not come as a major shock to the American people. Trump’s entire campaign was run on an “America first” platform, a promise to eliminate regulations that would disadvantage the American worker from his or her competitor abroad. The cuts proposed to the EPA are a perfect representation of this. Trump has often discredited the idea of man-made climate change, a notion that led to the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate accord. Trump even went as far as to state that “[he] was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh and not Paris,” portraying his belief that environmental legislation disadvantages local American businesses.

It also becomes interesting to note that partisanship ultimately plays a major role in how the budget proposal is shaped. Agencies that focus their work on issues that generate the most controversy between Republicans and Democrats are likely to experience the greatest fluctuation in their budgets. The EPA for example focuses on work which varies on importance depending on political orientation. A study by the PEW research center found that only 18% of Conservative Republicans believe scientists understand why climate change is occurring compared to roughly 68% of Liberal Democrats highlighting how partisanship impacts funding (Funk, Cary, and Brian Kennedy). Similar conclusions can be drawn between the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, two agencies that can expect an expanded budget for fiscal year 2018. A different study by the PEW research center found that 93% of Conservative Republicans view Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria as “serious threats to America” while only 64% of Liberal Democrats do. [3]

But what about agencies or departments that focus their work on topics that are less controversial between party lines? More specifically, how will agencies that provide indispensable services for the government be affected by the new proposal? This summer, I had the privilege of interning for the Department of the Treasury. The Treasury Department is the executive agency responsible for promoting economic prosperity and ensuring the financial security of the United States, pursuing a mission statement that receives strong support from both sides of the aisle. It is therefore unsurprising that the Treasury Department is one of the government agencies expected to be least affected by Trump’s proposed budget. 

I worked at the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) which focuses on implementing strategies that improve the efficiency of Treasury IT systems and business processes. [1] The Office of the Chief Information Officer also manages the internal infrastructure of Treasuries’ Human Resource systems. As one of the OCIO project managers explained to me, “The department relies on our systems to hire, fire and pay employees.” Today, OCIO manages HR infrastructure that supports roughly 240,000 federal employees across multiple agencies as the government has encouraged the implementation of shared services.

I was interested in learning about how the budget cut would impact the day to day office operations so I met with a member of the business operations team in charge of creating the budget for OCIO. He explained to me that towards the end of the year, the team meets with project managers to discuss their goals and future projects for the next fiscal year. Based on the information provided by said project managers, the business operations team reviews the projects and allocates respective funding under the guidance of upper management. Should Trump’s budget be passed, the business operations team will undoubtedly have to limit funding for some projects. Therefore, certain project managers will find their projects for fiscal year underfunded. Some project managers will struggle to fulfill their duties should funding requests not be met. I spent a few weeks working for a project manager in charge of customer support if users encounter difficulties using our HR system. A cut to her projects would mean inconveniences for federal employees trying to seek help after experiencing difficulties navigating the HR system. “If we lose funding, we may not be able to address reported issues as effectively as we do now” she explained. “Users might not get technical support as rapidly as they used to and its ultimately out of our control.” Most project managers will likely face similar limitations in their projects for fiscal year 2018.

Unsurprisingly, many Americans are growing increasingly concerned with the proposed budget. However, it is important to remember that the proposed budget is exactly that: a proposal. The proposal must be evaluated and accepted by Congress before it becomes official. Based on early indications, it becomes clear that Congress will not accept Trump’s budget in its current form. As explained by House speaker Paul Ryan: “When the president submits a budget, that is a beginning of the budget process.”[5] The proposal is controversial and given the level of gridlock in Congress, it is highly unlikely that the approved budget will match the proposal. As one of my coworkers put it more bluntly, “Trump can propose all he wants, but ultimately the House and the Senate are the adults at the table.” While many expect the House to limit some of the extreme cuts proposed by president Trump, agencies should still prepare to operate with reduced funding capabilities for fiscal year 2018.

References

[1] https://www.treasury.gov/about/organizational-structure/offices/Pages/Chief-Information-Officer.aspx

[2] http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/public-views-on-climate-change-and-climate-scientists

[3] http://www.people-press.org/2016/05/05/3-international-threats-defense-spending/

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39295234

[5] http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/23/politics/why-trumps-budget-cant-pass-congress/index.html

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  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

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