What A Continuing Resolution Means For The People Who Do The Work

President Donald Trump has agreed with Democratic Congressional leaders to extend a continuing budget resolution for three months. I can hear the federally-funded program managers:

whoop.ti.doo

It’s better than a government shutdown, but not much.

Once upon a time, Congress passed budgets in March. That allowed agencies like the Department of Energy to work through any changes that Congress made in their requested budgets and to inform the various facilities and contractors what their budgets would be for the fiscal year starting in October. Yes, it really worked that way in the dim past.

Even that regularity had its difficulties, including some fiddling with budgets at levels from the DOE down and the problem of being sure of only one year’s funding at a time. But in the mid-nineties, Newt Gingrich got the bright idea of holding the government hostage by budget in order to enact measures wanted by a minority.

I managed programs at Los Alamos through the eighties and into the nineties. There always were ups and downs, but continuing resolutions introduced a wnole new level of chaos.

A continuing resolution is Congress’s way to kick the budget can down the road. If a budget is not agreed by September, they have to do something to allow the government to continue operations after October 1. A continuing resolution says “You may spend as much money as your budget had last year.” This has a number of problems.

One of the projects I managed was cleanup of contaminated sites at Los Alamos. This is an oversimplified look at how a continuing resolution might affect a cleanup.

  • Year 1: Evaluation of data, take samples, do analysis of samples to define cleanup.
  • Year 2: Do cleanup.
  • Year 3: Take samples, evaluate cleanup, write report.

The budget for Year 1 is mostly for people, and in-house services, relatively small. The budget for Year 2 is much larger and mostly for contracts to companies that use earthmoving equipment. The budget for Year 3 looks a lot like that of Year 1.

Under a continuing resolution, there will not be enough money for Year 2. Congress has been micromanaging in more and more detail over the years, so project money is specified for people or equipment or contracts. Even though there may be plenty of funding under a continuing resolution for Year 3, it will be in the wrong pocket.

The managers at DOE and the national laboratories have some ability to shift money among projects and pockets, but the level of shifting necessary may well be against the law. To my knowledge, nobody has been prosecuted for that kind of manipulation, but it makes people feel bad about their jobs.

And that’s not the whole story. As the year proceeds on a continuing resolution, money is spent. But the budget Congress eventually decides on may be different. There may be less funding for people. If you’ve paid six people for six months and your budget is cut to three people, all your people money is gone by the time you know what the budget is. Again, managers can shift things so that people who will be needed the next year don’t have to be fired, again unsatisfactory and possibly illegal.

Every project across the government faces this uproar under a continuing resolution. The National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, FEMA, the border protection services, and, yes, the Department of Defense’s many operations. John McCain recognized this in a speech today.

I haven’t mentioned all the time that is wasted on rejiggering budgets, notifying people of changes, and all the other unnecessary work that goes into dealing with Congress’s budget antics. My guess is that it runs into billions of dollars.

Newt Gingrich found a way to hobble government and advance his political goals. Now the Democrats find political leverage in cutting down the continuing resolution to three months. If we want the government to work, this has to stop.

 

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner






48 replies
  1. 1
    TenguPhule says:

    Once upon a time, Congress passed budgets in March.

    Oh for those sainted days back in the 1990s.

  2. 2
    TenguPhule says:

    Newt Gingrich found a way to hobble government and advance his political goals. Now the Democrats find political leverage in cutting down the continuing resolution to three months. If we want the government to work, this has to stop.

    The problem is that almost half of this country doesn’t want the government to work because Ronald Fucking Reagan convinced them that government is the problem, not the solution.

  3. 3
    Snarki, child of Loki says:

    “The problem is that almost half of this country doesn’t want the government to work because Ronald Fucking Reagan convinced them that government is the problem, not the solution.”

    Those people are the problem, not the solution. I suggest that they listen to their hero Rush Limbaugh and put themselves in the path of fake a Cat-5 hurricane.

  4. 4
    jl says:

    From what I’ve read, the Chuck, Nancy and Donald collaboration has thrown a serious wrench into GOP legislative plan for pushing through tax ‘reform’ (aka huge tax slashes). so, more is going on than just politics, Kabuki, and optics.

  5. 5
    sherparick says:

    Also, the reason Nancy Pelosi and Chuck have leverage is that Ryan knows half his conference will not vote for any authorization act, CR, or debt ceiling increase under any circumstances because they are raving loonies. See the raving loonie who represents my district, David Brat. He also knows that a lot of Republicans will forget that they are a Republican and how much they hate Democrats and Those People if the Social Security check does not show up or that they can’t see their doctor because Medicare bills are not being paid. Ryan hates those programs as much as the loonies, but he knows ending them cold turkey and causing an immediate economic depression would be a political disaster for the Republican Party and undo 40 years of political propaganda about “Government is the Problem.” So to get his CR passed, he has to go to Pelosi, just as Boehner did. And the loonies hate him for it, even though they are the ones that give Pelosi all this leverage on authorization acts, appropriation acts, CR, and debt ceiling votes.

  6. 6
    jl says:

    @Snarki, child of Loki: After refusing to buy water, food, batteries and flashlights, as the hurricane bears down on them. They won’t be fooled by the sinister Deep State-hardware store conspiracy to promote the climate change hoax!

  7. 7
    Tom says:

    Cheryl – I second that emotion.

  8. 8
    randy khan says:

    My wife does not work for the government or a government contractor (well, her organization does hold a government contract, but it’s not of the kind that’s affected by budget shenanigans), but she uses federal government facilities, and she really hates continuing resolutions, too – every time a CR is about to end, she has to scramble to see if she can find alternate sites for her programs, and then she ends up not using them when the next CR is enacted.

  9. 9
    TenguPhule says:

    Mr. Trump, shut up shut up shut up!!!

    Trump on Thursday again said he could use military force to deter a nuclear weapons threat from North Korea, but refused to say whether he could tolerate a policy of nuclear containment there.

    War is not inevitable, Trump said during a news conference with the visiting leader of Kuwait.

    “It would be great if something else could be worked out,” he said.

    Trump cast doubt that further negotiations could work, however, saying that U.S. presidents have been “talking and talking and talking” to North Korea for 25 years while North Korea has been developing its nuclear capability.

    “North Korea is behaving badly and it’s gotta stop,” Trump said, after praising U.S. military capability.

    “Hopefully we’re not going to have to use it on North Korea,” he said. “If we do use it on North Korea, it’s going to be a very sad day for North Korea.”

    North Korea conducted a sixth nuclear weapons test on Sunday and it has also tested inter-continental ballistic missiles that could reach U.S. territory.

    “I would prefer not to go the route of the military, but it’s something that certainly could happen,” Trump said.

    He is going to get lots of people killed,

  10. 10
    germy says:

    @Snarki, child of Loki:

    Gary Fineout‏Verified account
    @fineout

    .@rushlimbaugh – based in S. Fla. – says he will not be on the air next several days – will be back on air next week from “parts unknown.”

  11. 11
    jl says:

    @germy: Clearly nothing to do with fake hurricanes. Big Hardware and the Deep State have put him on their hit list, no doubt. He is in hiding.

  12. 12

    See the raving loonie who represents my district, David Brat.

    @sherparick: I felt sorry for you for a second until I remembered my rep is Darryl Issa.

    Unlike your insane rep, mine WILL lose his job if there’s a shutdown. Gonna be interesting to see if he can force himself to get on the bipartisanship train. My bet is “yes”, because the only thing Issa has ever given a shit about is staying in office. If the white welfare recipients that represent his “base” don’t get their checks on time, he is done.

  13. 13
    low-tech cyclist says:

    Now the Democrats find political leverage in cutting down the continuing resolution to three months.

    Cutting it down?!

    In FY 2011, the GOP-controlled Congress passed 7 Continuing Resolutions, with 5 of them covering periods of 3 weeks or less, one of which only covered three days.

  14. 14
    SatanicPanic says:

    @The Moar You Know: I don’t get that guy. He’s super rich, you’d think he’d find the job a hassle since it’s obvious now that he’s not going any higher. It was more understandable back when he thought he could be governor.

  15. 15
  16. 16

    I don’t get that guy. He’s super rich, you’d think he’d find the job a hassle since it’s obvious now that he’s not going any higher. It was more understandable back when he thought he could be governor.

    @SatanicPanic: I suspect he’s one of those guys who, if left to himself, ends up jamming a pistol in his mouth and checking out. Like his nominal boss, he can’t handle not getting the attention.

  17. 17
    trollhattan says:

    Worked 15 years for a 501(c)(3) that mostly relied on federal monies. I started during the Reagan maladministration and quickly learned just how important continuing resolutions were to, well, continuation of being fed and housed.

  18. 18
    hueyplong says:

    The GOP needed to have this happen on their unified government watch in order to get the point.

    I don’t like the idea, which the GOP clearly had, that they can do this crap whenever they want to, secure in the knowledge that it would be beneath the Democrats to return the favor when circumstances and/or strategy advantage flipped.

    Let the GOP suddenly get religion on the idea of doing away with the debt ceiling. We could speculate that would never happen without yesterday’s maneuver.

  19. 19
    Weaselone says:

    A couple of quick questions
    1. Given the issues you cited about continuing resolutions vs an actual budget, exactly how would a longer resolution as proposed by Republicans actually have helped?
    2. From what I’ve read, the Democrats might be the only side actually still capable of crafting a functional budget. Do you think that’s true and if so what’s the chance that a real budget actually emerges while they’re out of power?

  20. 20
    trollhattan says:

    To my fellow left coasters (keeping unsightly rings off the furniture and countertops) if summer seemed excessively hot this year, it’s because it was.

  21. 21

    @Weaselone:
    1. On the one hand, workers would not have to worry about the government shutting down until next summer. A continuing resolution for the whole year would have stabilized that. On the other hand, dysfunctional levels of funding would be baked in for the entire year.
    2. I think it’s true, but the process has been dysfunctional for so long that I don’t see it changing any time soon. Maybe we can start moving back to a normal process if a Democratic Congress is elected in 2018. The best thing is to pass a budget by March.

  22. 22
    efgoldman says:

    @hueyplong:

    I don’t like the idea, which the GOP clearly had, that they can do this crap whenever they want to

    Theoretically only. The RWNJs have had total control of the federal government since January, and they’re unable to write and/or pass any significant legislation. Their kkkrazy kkkaukus is not interested in doing anything except sitting on their asses trying to fuck their constituents over.

  23. 23
    jl says:

    @Weaselone:

    Edit: sorry, I thought you meant ‘helped the GOP’. Anyway, still might be interesting case in pathology to hear their viewpoint.

    I think one problem with Cheryl’s idea is that if is false that the GOP caucus could actually do anything, formulate any plan, execute any plan. Alternative to the weird odd-bedfellows deal might well have been nothing.

    ” 1. Given the issues you cited about continuing resolutions vs an actual budget, exactly how would a longer resolution as proposed by Republicans actually have helped? ”

    My understanding is that with control of Congress and WH, not much political value in holding the debt ceiling hostage right now. Since they are the ones responsible for making everything work. Ryan and McConnell wanted to get a longer resolution through in order to clear their legislative calendar in order to have time to push through huge tax cuts disguised as tax reform. Now they have to deal with it again before 2018 elections.

    That was the plan. The GOP Freedom Caucus said ‘Nuh-uh. Not until we get everything we want and can use debt limit for some political grandstanding.”

    So, Ryan and McConnell, when they did have communications with Trump, suddenly found themselves having to ask Trump to wait up until their Freedom Caucus tantrum was resolved. Nancy and Chuck saw opportunity to come and talk about some Great Deals.

    I don’t think it is clear that GOP caucus has it in them to actually do anything at all, even when they can do whatever they want. It’s the collective decision problem, except with a lot of spoiled and maladjusted toddlers throwing tantrums all the time.

  24. 24
    trollhattan says:

    Too perfect.

    Anatoliy Kuzmin held out his daughter’s blue U.S. passport over a red Russian one and snapped a photo from a Florida beach. “Woohoo! Got dual citizenship for my daughter!” he wrote on Instagram.

    American citizenship for the newborn girl was the goal of Kuzmin and his Instagram-celebrity wife, who sought the help of birth-tourism services in Florida for the arrival of their first child. They are among the estimated hundreds of Russian parents who flock to the U.S. annually for warm weather, excellent medical care, and, more importantly, birthright American citizenship.

    And many, like Kuzmin and his wife, stay at President Donald Trump’s properties in Florida.

  25. 25

    @jl: I’m not gonna disagree too hard with you.

  26. 26
    randy khan says:

    @low-tech cyclist:

    Just to clarify, the original Republican plan was to pass a long-term debt ceiling increase that would last past the midterms, in hopes that their crazy voters would forget the blasphemy. Pelosi and Schumer got Trump to help with that.

    Normally a CR is separate, but in this case they ended up being bundled together, thanks to Chuck and Nancy.

  27. 27
    Aleta says:

    Can all the climate liars be trucked down to M ugh L and made to play golf this weekend?

  28. 28
    efgoldman says:

    @Aleta:

    Can all the climate liars be trucked down to M ugh L and made to play golf this weekend?

    Only if there are thunder and lightning storms.

  29. 29
    Gvg says:

    @trollhattan: I doubt if too many Americans try to get their kids dual Russian citizenship. That sort of says something unfavorable about how he views his own countries future.

  30. 30
    sukabi says:

    @trollhattan: anchor whaaa?

  31. 31
    Millard Filmore says:

    @TenguPhule:

    The problem is that almost half of this country doesn’t want the government to work because Ronald Fucking Reagan convinced them that government is the problem, not the solution.

    Citizens are better able to decide how to spend their money, not the government. If I had an extra thousand dollars or two, and had a choice of buying a 100″ flat screen high definition TV or throwing that cash at a flood control project …

    Its a quick guess to figure out where my money would go.

  32. 32
    Yutsano says:

    @Gvg: Last I checked Russia doesn’t have birthright citizenship either. I believe theirs is jus sanguis (forgive the crappy Latin) so unless you have family ties you’re not a citizen.

    I also didn’t think dual citizenship was recognized under Russian law.

  33. 33
    NoraLenderbee says:

    @trollhattan: Nice to see confirmation of my feeling. We had the worst tomato season in years.

  34. 34

    @Yutsano: Its not. I have Russian friend who decided to become a citizen but was none to happy about giving up her Russian citizenship.

  35. 35
    это курам на смех says:

    I was looking forward to another three-week paid vacation, except for the part of possibly not getting paid this time.

    We are content with seeing another CR that keeps Obama’s spending priorities more or less in place.

    ETA easy for me to say as I don’t deal with the budgeting headaches that Cheryl described.

  36. 36
    trollhattan says:

    I have a new little-girl hero.

  37. 37
    trollhattan says:

    @NoraLenderbee: My metroplex utterly destroyed the record for consecutive 90-degree days. Seattle (and much of the PNW) shattered the consecutive rainless day record. I’m expecting total days here over 105, over 100 and over 90 to all be new highs for the weather year when it wraps on the 30th.

  38. 38
    PAM Dirac says:

    @TenguPhule: I’ve worked for NIH for over 40 years and I can’t remember a time when budgets were routinely passed in the March before the fiscal year started. I think there was a 2-3 year stretch in the late 70s when it was continuing resolutions the whole time, not even an Omnibus throw everything together bill. Of course no one in those days ever thought to shut down or threaten to shut down, it was just the details never got worked out. It was annoying, but never as bad as the dumb shits make it now. You are right to point out that these days you can’t ever be sure what the final budget will be so if you are on a continuing resolution for the six months of the fiscal year that allows you to spend a 100% of last year’s rate and you do so, if the final bill is a 10% cut, that whole 10% cut needs to be taken out of the last 6 months of spending. More than annoying.

  39. 39
    ruckus says:

    @sherparick:
    You have to credit them some, they are consistent in their fucking stupidity. They have been trying, and often succeeding in screwing everyone with their ignorance, all for nothing or worse in return. That takes a massive level of ignorance.

  40. 40
    Cheryl from Maryland says:

    At my former employer, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, my colleagues are thankful for three months. Because they are in the throws of prepping the Fucking Columbia, The 1969 Lunar Command Module, one of the Nationalist of National treasures, for a two-year national tour. It is supposed to open next month at the Houston Space Center, so they have the issue of how ready Houston will be in a few weeks. Eliminating whether or not the SI is open for even a few months will be a relief to some worthy federal museum people. Here’s where it is going.

  41. 41
    Vhh says:

    @schrodingers_cat: I know Russians who became US citizens but retain Russian passports.

  42. 42

    @sherparick:

    Ryan hates those programs as much as the loonies, but he knows ending them cold turkey and causing an immediate economic depression would be a political disaster for the Republican Party

    I am not at all sure about this. However, I know he is weak-willed and enough of his Galtian Heroes are telling him they want the god damn government to keep running so they can get money from it, so I think there’s a better than even chance he will fold and allow clean bills to be voted on just to avoid disaster.

  43. 43
    Yutsano says:

    @это курам на смех: At this point the budget analysts at my agency are so used to CRs that it’s actually a welcome development.

    That and it avoids the cuts the Republicans insist on making to our budget.

  44. 44
    MomSense says:

    @trollhattan:

    She is one cool girl.

  45. 45

    @Yutsano: Thanks for this comment. I’ve been out of that rat race long enough that I thought it might be the case that people are getting used to dealing with it, but I wasn’t sure.

  46. 46
    low-tech cyclist says:

    @randy khan: I was responding to Cheryl Rofer’s implication (intended or not, I’m not sure) that having a CR of only three months, rather than some longer period, was a new thing in the political wars, or at least an escalation of some sort – that making the CR for such a short period was not just tit for tat, but a bit more. It is not.

  47. 47

    @low-tech cyclist: Not intended. CRs have been all over the map. Back in the day, a shorter one meant that Congress was getting its act together. Those days are gone. The contrast I was implicitly making was with the Republicans’ preference for a year CR.

  48. 48
    Original Lee says:

    Truth! I worked for EPA in the mid-1990s, and the continuing resolutions played hob with multi-year projects (which was probably the point).

    Edited to correct decade.

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