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How to Improve the Budget Process

The budget process would be better if it involved considering what programs are most effective and then seeking to direct more resources to them.

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With the start of summer comes budgeting season, when federal agencies work up their budget submissions to the Office of Management and Budget at the White House. This year all agencies hope to persuade the office to let them keep their resources despite the fiscally tight climate and the possibility of sequestration.

Agencies normally budget by using the past year’s program allocations as a baseline and seeking to make only incremental changes. They often ask for a little more money for programs and think about ways to improve the case for programs. The Office of Management and Budget, Congress, and agencies then enter into a debate around how much change is acceptable—and in the end, few programs receive any significant change in their allocations.

It would be better if the budget process involved considering what programs are most effective and then seeking to direct more resources to them. Similarly, where programs are less effective, they should be candidates for significant budget cuts.

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