Agencies anticipate budget cuts in FY2013, request less from Congress

Several government agencies outlined modest budget requests for the coming fiscal year, recognizing they were in an ongoing period of government funding austerity.
 
On Tuesday, heads of the Library of Congress, Government Printing Office, Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office appeared before the House Appropriations Legislative Branch subcommittee to review their financial needs in FY 2013.
 

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Before they even spoke, subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) warned that the level of available federal funds has, and will continue to remain, low as the House anticipates a $3.5 billion FY13 Legislative Branch request.
 
“We’re all in the same boat together,” he said, noting that the national debt now totaled $15 trillion. “I think everybody knows that these cuts don’t come without pain.”
 
The Librarian of Congress, James Billington, told the subcommittee Tuesday his agency would not seek a budget increase in the coming fiscal year.
 
“We are seeking funding just to maintain current core services, adjusted for inflation, at the reduced fiscal 2012 level,” he testified.
 
The agency was allotted $587 million for FY12, $79 million less than requested.
 
The LOC had instituted a voluntary separation program for employees to increase cost savings in the last year, which resulted in the early retirement of 180 staff members.
 
But that only accounted for 27 percent of savings for the agency in FY12, according to chief of staff Robert Dizard. Moving forward, the LOC would focus on information technology and pooling resources and expertise across the library regarding IT projects, he added.
 
Billington noted that the library also expected to catalog 50,000 fewer items in the coming fiscal year and operate with 22 fewer reference librarians, all the while attempting to avoid further decreases in acquisitions.
 
“Reductions have already cut deep into the library’s muscle,” he told the subcommittee. “We ask that they not be allowed to cut deeper into the bone.”
 
The Government Printing Office also projected it could make do at current funding levels, requesting the same amount it received in FY12 — $126 million.
 
According to recently appointed Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks, it’s a “good news story.”
 
The FY13 budget request reflects an “increased investment in digital information technologies and systems,” she told the subcommittee. The GPO is also “reducing our request for congressional printing and binding funds by $7.1 million, or 8 percent.”
 
Vance-Cooks reported that the GPO had cut back on printing of the Congressional Record as a result of a survey of lawmakers’ offices last year to see how many would be willing to cease receiving paper copies.
 
The agency also made significant strides in FY12 to boost its online profile, including launching a mobile application for the iPad. Vance-Cooks noted that the GPO would continue to focus on digital information and mobile apps in the future.
 
“The world will become more and more digital. That’s a fact,” she concluded. “Our aim is to reshape the GPO as the government’s digital information platform.”
 
But not all agencies projected they could make do at current funding levels.
 
The Government Accountability Office requested a modest budget increase from its FY12 funding levels in an effort to increase staff size.
 
Comptroller General Gene Dodaro testified Tuesday that his agency sought $526 million in FY13, a $15 million increase over what it was allotted in FY12.
 
The appropriations request is meant to fund a staffing level of 3,100 employees at the GAO. Dodaro estimated that 81 percent of the agency’s budget goes toward staffing, and budget cutbacks in recent years have resulted in plummeting staffing levels.
 
“What we request is a modest increase of 2.9 percent to partially restore some of our staff … to make sure we can maximize the investment at GAO,” Dodaro said.
 
The GAO’s current staffing level is 11 percent below where it was in 2010, and is the lowest level the agency has seen since 1935, he added. Without the extra funding requested in FY13, the GAO would be forced to operate with fewer than 3,000 employees.
 
“At that level, our staffing level, we’re missing opportunities to identify cost savings,” Dodaro concluded.
 
The Congressional Budget Office also requested a small budget increase over FY12 funding levels. The CBO is asking for $44 million in FY13, less than $1 million more than it received the previous fiscal year.
 
Director Douglas Elmendorf testified that more than 90 percent of the CBO’s budget goes toward staffing, and that the agency had stopped hiring new staff to as a result of decreasing funding levels.
 
Elmendorf proposed that the CBO aimed to cut several more positions through attrition in the coming year. But “fewer analysts will mean fewer estimates, fewer reports,” which could result in “weak spots,” he warned.
 
“We don’t have slack, really, at all,” Elmendorf told the subcommittee. “We’re always turning down demands.”
 
While the CBO was currently making due with less, the ongoing cutbacks his agency was experiencing could not go on forever without visible impact, Elmendorf added.
 
There is “no reason to expect that the demand for the CBO’s services will wane in the future,” he said. “We can economize for a period of time, but not indefinitely.”