There are many demands on the time, skills, and ingenuity of budget and program analysts, budget officers, and other staff working on budget execution and formulation. These demands can be overwhelming and excessive. Is there anything that can be done to avoid being overwhelmed and overstressed? What drives the workloads that budget analysts face? What can be done about it?
The work is intrinsically complex and involves time-consuming research and analysis. It is well recognized that budget work places stringent demands on those who work in the process. According to the Federal Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) prior classification standards for budget analysis, "For all positions in this series the work is characterized by tight time frames and rigid deadlines, i.e., a set of actionable events and milestones in the budget process." Any work that must be completed within "rigid deadlines" is bound to be stressful if done well - and even more stressful if it cannot be done well. A review of the process as outlined in this site will illustrate what is meant by this - much must be done in a short time.
Multiple simultaneous demands that may be mutually exclusive. Budget people tend to work multiple processes at the same time. Budget formulation for one year overlaps budget execution for other years, while additional demands are placed on these people for whatever may come up that can be best handled by those who know about the programs, the organization, and who know how to get things done, i.e., the budget people. In addition to actual work performance demands that may be contradictory, there is the simple fact that budgeting is ultimately about allocating, or rationing, scarce resources, and not everyone can be kept happy all the time. There are losers, some who are sore, and the people who do budget work have to face them on a daily basis. And losers tend to have longer memories than winners.
To compound the problem, in the Federal establishment there is pressure to cut down the numbers of people doing budget work. The former National Performance Review (NPR) identified budget positions as being in excess in the Federal establishment. This at the time when the NPR itself dramatically increased the amount of work expected from these staffs. (This is evidence of what I have known for some time - much of the Federal managerial establishment knows little of what it takes to do budget work.) More work with less people, achieve more with less. Familiar, but sadly not possible when the process does not change.
All this sounds like a recipe for insanity. But the work must be fulfilling for many since someone gets most of the work done (albeit with some problems, as evidenced by the constant criticism of agencies for "waste" and for failure to develop appropriate performance measures).
So how do people succeed, personally and professionally, in a system with so many negative characteristics? Neither you nor I can change the process drivers. The only advice I can give is related to personal control and, for some, survival. If you are working in a good organization with strong, knowledgeable leadership and senior analysts who can help you, this advice may not be needed. But most of you probably do not work in an ideal environment. Then, you should:
- Be prepared. Control the process to the extent you can by knowing what will come up and planning for it (this site should help you in this) and setting priorities.
- Be ready for the obvious analysis or justification document. Know the process and know what will be required next by your own agency. (If you need help in planning and setting priorities, you may also want to review my careers page, especially the section on organization.)
- Develop and have in place systems for fulfilling requirements. Keep track of recurring requirements and set up systems for developing what is required. Use information management tools as much as you can. Stay one step ahead of the higher levels of the organization by using technology; you will feel better and have some control over your destiny.
Don't let managers ignorant of the process bully you. If you are confident enough of your position, or have an exit plan, let them not follow your advice. Let them fail. They will learn, or they may get fired. Either way, you will have done humanity a favor. If you think that you will be successfully blamed for failure, make sure you do the essentials that must be done for the organization to survive in the process and document what you did. Make sure that others are aware of your accomplishments. Take steps to leave. (If this is your situation, you should definitely study this whole careers section.)
I hope these thoughts are helpful to you, and that the process does not turn out as I envision it. But if the process for you is better than I imagine, you will have lost nothing by being prepared. And if the process has been a nightmare for you, being prepared will help alleviate it.