Requests for funding and related actions are prepared by agencies and their main operating organizations or components. Agencies and their operating components know that a budget request will have to be submitted to OMB and Congress, and even before there is guidance from OMB or formal requests for action, operating components prepare for the process. Operating components have a different set of incentives for preparing their budget request than does the agency as a whole or OMB itself. Government programs and their implementation are based in operating components; these elements and their managers cannot afford to be passive in the process.
Budget requests must be developed if the agency and its programs are to function. Congress must approve appropriations. It does so every year. Without a budget request, the agency and its programs cease to exist. Disapproval of the request, or its elimination, is a way for Congress to do away with programs or agencies it does not want to continue. Full, educated, and effective participation in the process are essential for success. Sometimes it is necessary for survival.
The agency must develop its position on what to ask for as well as process the requests from operating components. The agency's basis for a budget request is to obtain resources for its operations. These operations cannot simply be defined by a few people working directly for the agency head, unless the agency is small or new. Agencies with more than a few hundred employees, a complex mission, or a long history must enlist the operating components for budget development and budget justification preparations.
The agency's main operating components or elements are the only ones who know what it takes to get things done and what will or will not get done - they are the operations of the agency. The operating components and their people are the ones who suffer or prosper based on the outcome of decisions made by others, and are the ones that the political leadership must rely on to achieve its own objectives. If they are to survive and prosper, they cannot afford not to influence the outcomes of the budget process. Operating components and their people have the information necessary to prepare sound budget requests, assess the effects of budget decisions, and ultimately implement operating plans. If their advice and input is ignored or never obtained, programs are bound to fail, and objectives never achieved.
The agency as a whole is represented by its central budget and planning staffs, and these staffs prepare overall system requirements, specify formats for budget submissions, and establish overall guidance from the agency head that implements the agency head's priorities.
Requests from operating components are prepared by people with extensive knowledge of programs and an incentive to be winners in the process, so they have an incentive to prepare extensive and detailed justifications. This presents an information management challenge for the agency since many thousands of pieces of information must be processed, assessed, summarized, and decisions made on them in a relatively short time. Bad decisions can come back to haunt the agency head.
The agency should issue its directions to operating components during the winter (for example, during late December 1998-January 1999 for FY 2001) if it is to meet OMB and internal agency decision deadlines. At the same time, operating components should be developing their positions for the needs of their programs.
To be winners, operating components have to have a position developed before the agency issues its instructions (unless they have a fairly routine program to implement). Any program which faces rapidly changing circumstances has to be able to present its case with strong evidence to support it. There isn't sufficient time to prepare this case if the operating component leadership waits for the agency's process instructions to start to prepare its case.
Operating components prepare justifications to obtain resources. The documentation required is generally dictated by the agency central budget staffs. Operating components prepare:
- Documentation of the request itself, along with documentation and explanations of why increases may be required. (Increases are usually the norm. There is no benefit in not asking for one.)
- Briefings to make the case.
- Back up and explanatory materials to prepare for meetings and to explain to various staffs and assistants what the actual request means and why it is sound and reasonable.
The purpose of these justifications and work is to defend what was obtained in the past through budget decisions, operating plan development, and managing program and accounting for resources, and maintain long term credibility so future requests are not rejected out of hand.
This part of the budget development process is confidential and kept within the agency. There are no web places to visit to look at the documents. They may be obtained after the end of the fiscal year to which they apply, usually through an FOIA request.