What Happens

    The agency figures out the best way to deal with OMB on the budget request as a whole and for specific items in the upcoming request.  The agency decides on how to approach OMB based on historical information and political considerations, including the nature of the relationship between the agency head, this person's immediate assistants, and the OMB leadership, as well as the needs of the agency to implement its programs.

Why

     Competition for resources is fierce.  The intrinsic worth of the agency's programs do not help much in the budget process.  The competition for resources is mostly among programs with great  value, at least for some important players in the process.

     There is little that can be simply granted or dismissed as having high or low intrinsic value.  Everything has been scrutinized in the past.  If it still survives, there are good reasons.  Decisions must be made on a different basis.   Logical, rational decision making along models of economic or business efficiency models do not work well.  Alternatives must be continuously assessed and developed.

Agency Actions

    The agency must develop its position on what to ask for and how to ask for it.  This is essentially a political decision since there is seldom a clear-cut technical reason for a budget increase.  A strategic decision has to consider whether or not the budget request should comply with OMB's initial guidance (i.e., generally ask for little or no increase) or to go for broke and ask funding levels that would provide for significant new activities.  After all, there are always good reasons for increasing programs.  A secondary consideration is a tactical one - will a large request allow a few small increases to survive, or should the likely survivors be the only ones in the initial request?  In other words, should the request be based on masses of numbers or should it be based on the hope of prevailing on the merits for the selected items requested?  Operating components seldom participate in the decision process, but their inputs are available as to the levels of resources that may be needed.

Timing

     Agency decisions on how to deal with OMB and what to emphasize must be made before the budget request is sent to OMB.  Ideally, these decisions should be available by June, to guide the details of the budget development process for the agency through the summer.  Decisions, however, can be postponed:
Decisions that affect the details of the documents sent to OMB must be done in time to change these documents, if needed.  Given physical constraints (such as printing documents), such decisions should be made by mid-August (for example, August of 2000 for FY 2002).
 
     In some cases, last-minute decisions that affect policy or even the details can be stated in the letter that transmits the budget request to OMB.   Changes to this letter can be made until minutes before it is signed, usually in early September (for example, September 2000 for FY 2002).
 
     There is also the late developing policy initiative, which can come as late as December or January.  But this type of last minute initiative needs the personal support of the President or his immediate staff.
 
     After mid-January, it is practically impossible to make changes.   New initiatives after this time would have to be dealt with as supplemental requests.  (This is the reason why an incoming President and administration has a small effect on policy as reflected in the budget; with the start of the new term in January, it is too late to affect the current year, which was appropriated the preceding year, and it is too late to make major changes to the budget, which was prepared by the agencies under the prior administration.)
 
     The consequences related to making decisions later are too hurried a process, and an adverse workload effect on the staff who have to put the documents in final form.  It can also result in poor decisions, not supported by the facts and the institutions that have to support it to prevail.  The benefits can be related to acting on the basis of new developments that may require policy changes at the last minute.  If the agency's submission reflects very current policy thinking within an administration, then the budget request may be more favorably treated by OMB.

Documents

     Letter of transmittal of the budget request to OMB from the agency head.  This document states the agency's position on the budget request, including how it dealt with OMB's instructions of the preceding spring.  It is a confidential document.

Links

     None, since these parts of the process are confidential.