Biden FY2022 Budget – Breaking Down the PMA

Earlier this month, in a May 6 column, I offered up a President’s Management Agenda framework – PMA 46 – for the Biden-Harris Administration as we awaited the full FY 2022 budget proposal, which was publicly released today.

While the so-called “skinny budget” released in April outlined plans for the discretionary part of next year’s budget, it didn’t include a number of specifics, including the Analytical Perspectives volume in which one would normally find policy initiatives to include a chapter on serving citizens, streamlining government, modernizing technology, etc. –in other words, what we have come to call the President’s Management Agenda.

Undeterred, I pressed on, drawing on speeches, policy papers, the campaign platform, testimony in confirmation hearings, as well as what was proposed for funding in the budget outline. At that time I proposed what I thought would be several major tenets of the Biden PMA:

  • Continuing initiatives found in previous Administration’s reform programs — acquisition reform (with a focus on agility), performance measurement, financial management, shared services, customer  satisfaction, and citizen services;
  • “Management” issues mentioned in the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget’s April 9, 2021 transmittal letter, to include “Made in America” and “green” initiatives such as clean energy technologies, opportunities for small and minority businesses, civil rights and diversity, and bolstering Federal cybersecurity;
  • Innovation – to include key emerging technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence;
  • Technology Modernization to support agencies as they modernize, strengthen and secure antiquated information systems. This was reflected not only in additional dollars for the government-wide Technology Modernization Fund but also for specific efforts at Veterans Affairs, the Internal revenue Service, and the Social Security Administration;
  • Human Capital, with the expectation of new initiatives as well as efforts to undo a number of actions taken by the Trump Administration; and
  • Advancing a vision for a 21st Century government that is focused on improving outcomes using data and evidence, re-establishing trust, re-imagining service delivery, evaluating programs, and recruiting and retaining new talent with technical skills in critical and emerging technology areas.

As the weeks have passed, I found reasons to be confident as well as reasons to be concerned. In just the past few days, new Federal CIO Claire Martorana has been on the circuit and laid out a technology agenda that nicely fits within the framework I suggested. Her ambitious agenda for her office and the Federal CIO Council includes innovation, technology modernization, cybersecurity, citizen services, interoperability and collaboration tools, an updated Federal Data Strategy, and telework. Even more significantly perhaps she has spoken about overcoming resistance to change, noting that innovating involves taking risks and that means tolerating failure and looking to long-term reform as well as short-term successes.

But the administration’s management team has a number of key roles still open.  Most notable is a Director for OMB, but also still vacant are such key jobs in that agency as a Chief Financial Officer, a head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and the Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, not to mention the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, the Administrator of the General Services Administration, and a number of agency chief operating officers.  At the current pace, we may be well into the Fall before we have the complete array of management leaders installed across the full of government.

The complete budget was released just today – May 28 –quite late even for a new Administration, but understandable given the controversy over the election results and the delay in getting transition teams into place.

The Analytical Perspectives volume, where one would usually find a PMA, includes a chapter on “Management,” which is largely devoted to strengthening and rebuilding the workforce and human resources matters such as trends, pay, and benefits.

It also includes a chapter on “Information Technology and Cybersecurity.” That section presents somewhat more detail on the initiatives previously announced and somewhat more granular detail on the funding allocations to individual civilian agencies for IT (a breakout for the Department of Defense will appear separately) as well as the proposed budget for the US Digital Service.

I found it significant that in the main 72-page budget document – along with a section on spending on The Pandemic and the Economy and a to-be-expected lengthy chapter on Biden’s Building Back Better initiative – was a separate six-page section entitled Delivering Results for All Americans Through Equitable, Effective and Accountable Government.  Management does matter and makes the big time!

Inclusion in this key volume does reflect the administration’s “recommitting to good government” as essential to “promoting public trust in government.” Mentioned in passing is the phrase “as the PMA takes shape,” which I read to mean expect more as other officials are nominated and confirmed.

Acquisition also gets a nod here, with a pledge to create a “modern and diverse Federal acquisition system” – joining the almost 200 studies and procurement reform commissions that have been conducted over the last 30-plus years to do this very thing.  The President’s Budget Message, which opens the transmittal, ends with this: “The Budget … will demonstrate to the American people … that their Government is able to deliver for them again.”

Overall, the Biden Management Agenda creates the “steadiness in administration” – as I mentioned previously – that is essential to bring about management change and reform in a Fortune One company, our massive Federal government.  It emphasizes the elements that are driving change in the private sector – Technology, Innovation, Diversity, and Evidence (TIDE).

Now the White House needs to get a full team on the field to execute against this set of goals.  Going “big” with policy, going “big” with spending,” going “big” with speeches and promises, is all good and inspiring.  But managing, executing, and delivering against that policy agenda will be key to both political success and how history judges this presidency.

So how did I do?  I am known for my modesty and understated excellence, so I can’t profess to be a 2021 Carnac the Magnificent (NOTE: Those under 55, please Google Johnny Carson), the great seer, soothsayer, and sage. But I would give myself a solid “B.”  And to those who may differ, I say “may the bird of paradise fly up your nose”.

Alan P. Balutis
About Alan P. Balutis
Alan Balutis has held senior roles in academia, the Federal government, and both the private and non-profit sectors. He has written extensively about government and management reform in both academic and trade publications. He recently left Cisco Systems. where he headed their Public Sector Strategy and Consulting practice.