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August 2, 2021

Top 6 Tips to Getting Your Budget Approved

Across the Federal Government there are many challenges in getting to the point where a budget is ready for submission, including, time crunches in creating budgets when Congress does not complete spending bills on time; largely manual processes; working in multiple systems that do not talk to each other and more. On top of that, insufficient submissions can mean losing funding, or not getting funding for new programs that your organization needs.

Oftentimes when there is insufficient justification for a budget or something needs to be cut from a budget, the money will likely be cut from critical functions such as maintenance and IT because of the lack of political constituency behind it.

What’s more is that oftentimes when there is new funding or new requirements that arise, there may not be funding for other costs associated with the new funding or requirements. This can lead to the organization pulling even more money from the operations side of the house. It is vital that organizations have the proper detail and justification for their proposed budgets, including in those maintenance areas. Below are six best practices for the greatest likelihood that appropriators will approve your budget.

Here are six best practices for helping your budget get approved by appropriations:

  1. Provide details on critical functions. When you are asking for a critical function, appropriators want details such as how many FTE and positions are you requesting (bonus tip: many appropriators don’t know the term FTE, so don’t use that to describe the number of positions). They want to know how many new hires you will need and how many are already in place. Make sure that your description includes associated costs such as training funding for those you want to hire. Other critical functions include IT and critical systems. Organizations must ensure there is enough budget to maintain and protect those systems to track spending and have sufficient cybersecurity protections.
  2. Show how you are executing on your spending targets. Appropriators want to see how much organizations have accomplished towards meeting spending goals set by Congress for the current year. If an organization is behind in its spending targets, then it is unlikely the organization will give new funding unless there is a plan for execution. Appropriators are hesitant to support any new spending without a plan.
  3. Provide data for new starts. Appropriators need to see not only how much you are requesting, but why you are requesting this. There needs to be data to support the why for new starts so that the budget request can be justified and defended before Congress.
  4. Be prepared for program determinations and reductions. At the start of the budget cycle you must be prepared for what’s being cut, and cancelled, and why, especially during administration changes. Having multiple Courses of Action and knowing the potential trade-offs can help you foresee any pitfalls.
  5. Know your audience. If the chairman hails from Vermont, then let the appropriators know right away what effects your budget has in the state of Vermont. Writing your budget in a way that shows the effects it will have upon those who are reviewing it can only help your case.
  6. Build relationships with the Hill. As someone responsible for budget, it is important to interact with a variety of Hill staff including professional staff, subcommittee clerks, etc. Appropriators want to get spending plans passed and try to be as nonpartisan as possible towards those efforts. Developing a good working relationship can help you be successful.

Considering all of the challenges faced by organizations in getting their submissions complete and on time, there are certain steps organizations can take to streamline their processes, ensure they have the necessary data to justify their spend plans, and pivot quickly when conditions change. Decision Lens software automates many manual processes associated with the PPBE process. Learn more about how we can help your organization with the budgeting process from intake to spend plan execution.

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These insights were derived from a recent AGA PDT session entitled “Budget Formulation 2.0”, featuring a range of experts from across DoD and DHS including: Lorraine Williams, DoD Comptroller, Director of Operations; Holly Mehringer, Budget Officer, Department of Homeland Security; RDML Joe Cahill, USN, Deputy Director for Resources and Acquisitions, J-8, Joint Staff; RDML Mark Fedor USCG, Assistant Commandant for Resources & CFO, CG-8, Chip Walgren, Former Senate Appropriations Committee Staff and; George Kovatch, Former Deputy Comptroller (Budget & Appropriations, DoD)    

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