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The Biden Administration’s Management Approach to the Federal Budget: First Impressions

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Stephen R. Rolandi 
April 1, 2022

Late last month, President Biden submitted to Congress his first full budget proposal for Federal Fiscal Year 2023, commencing October 1, 2022 and ending September 30, 2023. His budget proposal comes amidst the continuing conflict in Eastern Europe, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and other crises. Undoubtedly, there will be many analyses of the President’s proposed budget and speculation about whether it will be approved by Congress in time for the start of the new fiscal year.

Students, scholars and practitioners have studied the various approaches and formats utilized by our nation’s Chief Executives in their need to get their arms around the Federal bureaucracy and implement their policy agendas. The Federal budget is seen as the vehicle for presidents to translate their policy decisions into financial plans.

Traditionally, the basic budgeting approach has been incremental—as exemplified by the line-item budgeting (LIB) method. Over the last 60 years, there have been many such approaches that have been utilized, with varying degrees of success. For example, during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations (1961-69), the budget approach was Program Planning Budgeting Systems (PPBS), which placed much emphasis on determining the true cost of government programs, cost-benefit analysis, etc. This was followed in the Nixon and Ford administrations with Management by Objectives (MBO); arguably the most transformative approach was adopted by President Jimmy Carter with zero-based budgeting (ZBB) which mandated that program activities and services be justified during the budget process. In addition, there are other budget methodologies such as performance-based, site-based and outcome-focused budgeting models.

My article this month focuses on the Biden Administration’s approach to budgeting within the framework of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) which was first adopted in 1993 during the administration of William J. (Bill) Clinton and re-authorized by Congress in 2010 during the Obama administration. In essence, GPRA requires Federal agencies to prepare a strategic plan covering a multi-year time period and requires each Federal agency to submit an annual performance plan as well as an annual performance report.

In November, 2021, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in conjunction with the President’s Management Council (PMC), Office of personnel Management (OPM) and the General Service Administration (GSA), launched the Biden-Harris Management Agenda Vision. This document, known as the President’s Management Agenda (PMA), defines government-wide management priorities for all Federal agencies with the goal of improving agencies’ operations and performance and ensuring equity and accountability in the delivery of those programs. The idea behind PMA is to bring about a closer working relationship among Federal agencies by working across governmental branches and levels, as well as sectors, that interact with government. OMB serves as the driver in the PMA program.

PMA is a framework with three major priority areas:

  • Priority Area 1: Strengthening and empowering the Federal workforce;
  • Priority Area 2: Delivering excellent, equitable and secure Federal services and customer experience;
  • Priority Area 3: Managing the business of government to build back better

One major component of PMA is developing a “Learning Agenda”— a collaborative effort across agencies to advance evidence-based policy. Federal agencies are involved in this process, as required by the 2018 Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, known as the “Evidence Act”.  During the initial three months of PMA, OMB has sought to gather the public’s input to get answers to the following questions:

  • How can the Federal Government strengthen and empower its workforce to better serve citizens?
  • How can the Federal Government better deliver programs and services effectively and build trust?
  • How can the Federal Government advance equity and better support underserved communities?

The Biden Administration’s hope is to have PMA serve as a dynamic effort designed to support programs and opportunities beyond the reach of any one Federal agency, as the Administration’s “Build Back Better (BBB)” theme requires a whole-of-government effort and transformation in the way the Federal Government now operates.

At first blush, PMA seems to have incorporated much of GPRA and to a certain extent, the former MBO budget approach of the 1970s. The success of PMA will depend on how well this program is implemented—and how it is received by Congress. In the last analysis, it is Congress who passes the President’s budget.

(Note: Readers who are interested in getting information about the implementation and progress of these plans on a quarterly basis can find them on Performance.gov)   

Author: Stephen R. Rolandi retired in 2015 after serving with the State and City of New York. He holds BA and MPA degrees from New York University, and studied law at Brooklyn Law School. He teaches public finance and management as an Adjunct Professor of Public Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) and Pace University. Professor Rolandi is a Trustee of NECoPA; President-emeritus of ASPA’s New York Metropolitan Chapter and past Senior National Council Representative. He has served on many association boards in Washington, DC, New York City and Westchester County. He is a frequent guest commentator on public affairs and political issues affecting the nation and New York State. You can reach him at: [email protected] or [email protected] or  914.536.5942 or 212.237.8000.

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