Working with the Federal Budget Process: The Challenge Facing DOE Science

Multiple Federal Budget Processes: At any time during the year, budgets for two and usually three fiscal years are under development or revision in Washington.

First, each February, the Executive Branch begins enormously detailed spending plans for the fiscal years that will start on the Oct. 1 about 20 months later. The internal executive branch process takes a year, ending with the proposal of this budget to Congress early in the February that falls eight months prior to the start of the subject fiscal year, i.e., the 03 budget began February 01 and came to the Hill in Feb. 02.

Second, Congress gives the President's budget two (principal) levels of review. Acting first through its "Budget Committees" during February and supposedly by mid-March, Congress conducts a "fiscal" budget process meant to result in a "Budget Resolution" that Congress uses for its own purposes. (It is not subject to the President's review.) The Budget Resolution's single real purpose is to set fiscal levels for entitlements, debt repayment, and military and civilian discretionary spending. Usually there is a "firewall" between the military and civilian accounts, so Congress cannot raid the Defense budget. This bears on Energy and Water because half DOE's budget is military.

Then, the appropriation committees in the House and Senate, acting separately, divide the discretionary spending total into 13 appropriations bills of widely varying size. The House E&W figure is usually smaller than the Senate's. To avoid government shutdowns, all appropriations bills must pass Congress and be signed by the President before current year spending authority expires on September 30.

Note that while the Administration continues to negotiate with the Congress over spending for the following fiscal year, the executive agencies have already quietly begun their proposal for the year after that, another 20 months hence.

Third, because unanticipated events require real time spending adjustments, the Administration and Congress must also enact "supplemental " appropriations bills for the current fiscal year that are meant to be limited in scope and to pass quickly. Often, however, disagreements slow these "supplementals"; the 02 supplemental delayed appropriations work on the FY 03 bills, for instance.

Still another set of legislative activities -- those of the "authorizing" or policy committees -- has important budget consequences, though not technically part of the budget process. Authorizing committees, such as Energy and Natural Resources or Armed Services in the Senate, and Science or Armed Services in the House - exist to enact legislation prescribing the architecture of federal programs and to "authorize" the appropriations (spending) to implement them, usually for multiple years in a single act. Even when authorizing bills are not enacted for a particular year (often the case with energy and/or science), the authorizing committees can serve as powerful advocates within the Congress for spending on the programs within their policy jurisdiction because they are staffed to do it and have policy credibility. Examples this year are the House Science Committee's forceful endorsement of doubling National Science Foundation funding over the next five years, or the Senate's Energy Committee's legislation endorsing significant increases in Department of Energy science spending.