Sunday, January 19, 2014

Total.Budget.Geekery.

On Friday, the Senate passed the FY 2014 Omnibus bill, and sent it to the President for signature. It's been all over the news, especially since this bill finalizes funding for FY 2014 which was a particularly contentious year, spawning the first government shutdown in nearly two decades.

I was on leave Tuesday when the House released the text of the bill and the explanatory statement (link under "Bill Text," explanatory statement is in "Divisions D-F"), flying back from four days of amazing skiing in Park City, UT. First sign of Total.Budget.Geekery: scrambling to download the bill to my tablet while still in the airport so I could read through it on the return flight...all 1,582 pages of it, not including the explanatory statement. Thank goodness for the "Search" function.

It's hard for me to tell what the bald numbers in the text of the bill actually mean. For example, the bill says, "$7,011,807,000" between two semi-colons, and that's our funding level for our Operations Expenses appropriation. Yup, not particularly helpful without the context of what went into making that number up. That's what the explanatory statement is for...but I wasn't ready to go there yet.

I persevered reading through the bill, and found a little *gem* of goodness. "...That without regard to the limitation as to time and condition of section 503(d) of this Act, after June 30, an additional $10,000,000 may be reprogrammed to or from Military Pay and Allowances in accordance with subsections (a), (b), and (c), of section 503." It tickled at my brain, making me think, oh my -- is it really possible?? I had to wait until Wednesday when I returned to the office to get clarification on what that provision actually meant. The FY 2016 Coordinator confirmed my inkling -- it means that the Coast Guard can transfer up to $15 million to or from PPA-1 (Military Pay and Allowances) without having to go to Congress for permission. Huge, fantastic, massive, incredible *win* for the CG!!

Second sign of Total.Budget.Geekery: having this little provision make me so excited it obliterated the hassle of coming back to work after 8 days out of the office. Seriously, I was giddy for days!!

Now, I'm guessing you are wondering what the heck I'm so excited about. You sure you really wanna know? It's Total.Budget.Geekery lameness, i.e., deadly boring. Here goes, but if you get two sentences into it and wanna poke yourself in the eye with a pen because it would suck less, don't say I didn't warn ya...
The Coast Guard is funded through five main discretionary appropriations (Operating Expenses (OE); Acquisitions, Construction and Improvements (AC&I); Reserve Training (RT); Environmental Compliance and Restorations (EC&R); and Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation (RDT&E)). There are others, mandatory and discretionary, like Retired Pay (RP), the Gift Fund, the Yard Fund, but the first five are the bulk of our funding.

OE is the largest appropriation, at $7 billion. That's a lot of money to manage all in one account, so it gets further broken down into PPA's (Program, Project or Activity). There are six:
PPA-1: Military Pay and Benefits
PPA-2: Civilian Pay and Benefits
PPA-3: Training and Recruiting
PPA-4: Operating Funds and Unit Level Maintenance
PPA-5: Centrally Management Accounts
PPA-6: Intermediate and Depot Level Maintenance
I won't get into AFCs, the next level below PPAs.

Still with me? So, by appropriations law, previously we could transfer $5 million between PPAs to end the fiscal year as close to a zero balance in each account as possible. If we needed to transfer more, we have to ask our Appropriations Committees for permission to reprogram funds (it's a reprogramming request if it is within a single appropriation (like OE), a transfer request if it is between appropriations (between AC&I and RDT&E, for example). I remember sitting in my Federal Budgeting class at UMD, and having the professor kind of gloss over this detail, like no big deal. Well, it *is* a big deal. Because first we have to clear the request through DHS, and then OMB, and then it gets to Congress. Any request gets heavy scrutiny all along the way (rightfully so), so we try to limit our reprogramming requests.

But it's *really* hard, especially within PPA-1, which is the largest portion of OE, at $3.4 billion, and particularly volatile because it has to do with people and their personal decisions. As the Military Pay Manager says, his predictors are all solid, but because the account is so large, his pencil width is $10 million. Increasing our below threshold reprogramming (BTR) level for even just PPA-1 will help the CG to spend its money more effectively, as well as  reduce the management burden for our financial folks...*huge* win!!

There are some numbers within the budget that I know from the top of my head, from having worked with them so closely. So when I saw the following in the AC&I section, "$113,395,000, to remain available until September 30, 2014, shall be available for personnel compensation and benefits and related costs," I kinda knew my first day back at the office was going to be hectic. Total.Budget.Geekery Indicator #3 -- knowing why $113 million is a significant number. I spend a lot of my time on AC&I Personnel. It is a challenging account to manage because of the appropriations structure. It is a sub-approp within AC&I, but all the other sub-approps within AC&I are multi- or no-year funds. AC&I Personnel funds are one-year money, and so funds can't be reprogrammed in or out. In OE's PPA-1, it's hard enough to hit zero in a $3.4 billion account with a $15 million BTR level...in AC&I Pers, we have to hit zero in a $113 million account with no ability to transfer money *at all* (I reread this sentence before posting, and it made *my* head hurt...sorry for the gory budget details). And it mixes military and civilian personnel compensation systems, which are very, very different. I saw this number and chuckled in frustration.

Once I got to the explanatory statement, there were definitely some details that took me by surprise, including decommissioning four WPB-110s and closing the AIRFACs in Charleston, SC and Newport, OR. I was very happy to see the $1 million for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program, and $28 million restored to training. The "$7,459,000 realigned from Acquisition, Construction,
and Improvements to address a personnel imbalance between the two accounts" made me giggle, especially when combined with the "$6,100,000 is provided in the Personnel and Related Support PPA" in the C27 section. $18 million in AC&I for CG Housing was good to see as well.

Sign number four of Total.Budget.Geekery: viewing the budget as a career planning tool. The AC&I section of the explanatory statement includes the following regarding National Security Cutters (NSCs), "A total of $629,000,000 is provided for the NSC program. Of this amount, $540,000,000 is for the production of NSC-7, $12,000,000 is for the second segment of long lead time materials for NSC-7, and $77,000,000 is to acquire long lead time materials for the production of NSC-8." This means that there will likely be four O-6 commands available per year when (IF!!!) I ever make CAPT. Those are better odds than presented by having just six NSCs, which would be three commands available per year. So, I might maybe consider staying in to try for an O-6 command, instead of getting out after my O-5 command.

Sign number five of Total.Budget.Geekery: the level of excitement and relief I feel for having clarity and definite answers about FY 2014, and the ability we gain to be able to move forward on FY 2015. I feel like the log-jam is finally starting to break free.

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