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What You REALLY Need to Know About Biden’s Budget

Months into his first year of office, President Joe Biden delivered a proposed budget that’s characteristic of his campaign and career. The budget extols American resilience, celebrates diversity and embraces apolitical messaging – sometimes at the expense of detail.

Punting those more structured, programmatic points for the soon-to-come President’s Management Agenda, the budget still outlines many key features of intrigue.

Centrally, a request for the sweeping continuation and expansion of pandemic-level grant funding anchors the budget, as battered state and local governments regain their balance after a year of economic ruin. Other administration priorities that emerge are pay increases and benefit security for the federal service, equity, career development within the public sector, the strengthening of unions, the expansion of the Education Department, and cybersecurity.

Administration priorities include:

  • Pay increases and benefit security for federal employees
  • Equity in all programs and services
  • Career development and revamped recruitment/hiring processes
  • Bargaining power and room for influence from unions
  • Cybersecurity upgrades and IT modernization
  • Increased role of Education

“The resiliency of the Federal workforce has been on full display during the COVID-19 pandemic, as civil servants have continued to deliver on their Agencies’ missions despite unprecedented challenges,” the administration states in a detailed budgetary document.

The Biden administration designates all civilian employees for a 2.7% pay raise in the president’s budget – which is subject to congressional approval and will undergo rounds of negotiation and changes. That’s in line with a Defense Department requested increase of the same percent.

As proposed, the budget would increase government payments to state and local governments in 2022, taking the total to $1.1 trillion – a 7% increase from 2021 and nearly double the grant spending from 2015. Total federal grant spending in 2022 would account for 5% of the country’s gross domestic product under the new administration’s forecast.

Those in the federal workforce could see more oversight and collaborative projects as grant spending swells and remains a focus, even as COVID-19 cases fall. More roles and workforce involvement in these projects will naturally follow the funding.

The administration wants to elevate more federal positions to a $15 per hour wage, something the budget says will help attract a more diverse workforce. A Biden executive order already increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour for federal contractors, a rule that impacts hundreds of thousands of employees.

Under fresh-faced guidance, agencies will – yet again – be charged with broadening the pathways into the federal workforce, especially by recruiting younger people to join the civil service. Though the average employee age has recently remained steady around 47, the percentage of employees 55 and older has remained consistently three and a half times greater than the percentage of employees 30 and under. The budget specifically calls out internship programs and the creation of agency “talent teams” as ways to attract younger employees.

The administration is also ordering the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to examine hiring pathways that would allow people to return to federal service at a pay scale commensurate to their place in industry, as opposed to their previous general schedule level. These initiatives accompany an underway revamp of the notoriously time-consuming security clearance process in the federal government.

Equity in federal programs, services and the workforce was a premier promise of Biden’s campaign, and that’s reflected now in the follow-through. The administration supports expanding the activities of civil rights offices across government to ensure the equal enforcement of laws and equitable delivery of services. The budget specifically calls out the national security ranks as an area for increased diversity within the workforce.

The agency that would benefit the most under the budget proposal is the Education Department. Earmarked to receive a 40% boost in funding, the highest of any cabinet agency and five times the average funding change in the new budget, the Education Department would oversee transformational programs pushed by Biden’s American Families Plan, including universal preschool and free two-year community college.

The budget also carries new plans for IT and cybersecurity, which have been magnets for scrutiny and spending during the pandemic. Biden sets aside $9.8 billion for cybersecurity and $500 million for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) in the newly released document, on top of existing appropriations. The $9.8 billion figure includes $110 million for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and $750 million for agencies impacted by the recent spate of cyberattacks. Those numbers are likely to change, however.

Historically, technology has been one of the first items on the chopping block once budgets travel to the Capitol. But the cybersecurity executive order and the infusion of funding through the American Rescue Plan are reasons to think that Congress could view tech as sexier spend this time around.

Though the numbers laid out in the budget are not final and will likely shift quite a good bit in committee discussions, the document is importantly the first detailed and documented overview of the Biden administration’s overarching priorities. More specific programs and initiatives will be detailed in the President’s Management Agenda, which the administration says will be released in the coming months.

You can find more information on the budget and supporting documents here.

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