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A 'Rudderless' 2010 Budget?

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By Jill R. Aitoro February 20, 2009

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Apparently, the Bush administration was less than forthcoming with details about the 2010 budget, telling agencies to not provide Obama's transition team with information about their funding requests until the January 20 inauguration, said a source with inside knowledge of the situation.

According to the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, the president must annually submit a budget to Congress by the first Monday in February. Prior to that, agencies send their budget requests to the Office of Management and Budget by September, then OMB returns the budget requests to the agencies with funding decisions in November or December. That gives agencies about two months to appeal any decisions before the compiled federal budget moves to the Hill. Once that happens, Congress holds hearings and debates the budget's content, passes a continuing resolution for more time if needed, and - under the best of circumstances - passes the bill in October or November.

Typically, during a presidential transition, the incoming president would have an opportunity to discuss the budget requests with the agencies and then based on that, submit a supplemental for Congress to also consider that incorporates any changes or additional initiatives that the new administration wants funded, said a source with close ties to the current administration and experience in past administrations.

But Obama did not have that luxury, said a source.

"When the transition team walked into the agencies, they were told that any discussions about what the 2010 budget should look like are 'predecisional,'" meaning preliminary and not yet finalized, said the source.

"The career employees were banned from telling the transition folks what they thought. Their hands were tied, bound and monitored."

Why does that matter? Because if true, the Obama administration had less than two weeks after taking office to evaluate agency requests and apply its own stamp to the 2010 budget (including fund allocation for an ambitious IT agenda), which covers the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2009.

As the source said, "from an operational standpoint, the budget will be just fine; but in terms of offering some political direction for the new administration, it's rudderless."

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