The Federal Budget Process: 101

What are the threats and what can I do?

By now, you have likely heard the buzz on President Trump’s proposed budget and how it will affect a number of programs that impact architects and the built environment. If you've missed it, here is the rundown.

But what is the real threat to these programs? How can the President just zero out such important and well-supported programs like EPA’s Energy Star program with the stroke of his pen?

The short answer: he can’t.

The long answer involves diving into the arcane and complex exercise that is the federal budget, also known as the appropriations process. Without going into far more detail than any sane person would want to know, the appropriations process originates in Congress. The budget that the President sends over has no legal or constitutional bearing on the process. That’s right; President Trump's proposed cuts are really nothing more than a recommendation based on the Administration’s values and priorities. Congress is not required to follow these recommendations.

Now, of course both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans, who, as a matter of philosophy, believe in a smaller government. This fact will no doubt influence the direction of the appropriations process. But the appropriations process requires committee-based actions that include proposals, hearings and—most importantly—votes. In order for an appropriations bill to pass, it has to be approved by an appropriations subcommittee and the full committee in each chamber of Congress before going to the full House and Senate. With the number of Republicans in the Senate being far below the 60 needed to force the Democrats to go along with any Republican plan, Republicans and Democrats must work together to develop policies that pass. And this includes a federal budget.

This does not mean the various programs touted for cuts or elimination in the Trump budget plan are safe. Unless members of Congress hear from their constituents about why these programs matter, they may still face significant reductions. When it comes to programs that impact the built environment, it is important for practitioners to be at the table as these budget cuts are discussed. That is why AIA is providing a voice to the industry by joining its coalition allies in the discussions unfolding in Washington, DC. Just last week, almost 800 firms made the business case for EPA programs that help the business and practice of architecture and we will continue to educate policymakers on the value of the federal programs that affect our industry the most.

Want to get involved in this and other AIA Advocacy efforts? It’s easy. Simply sign up to join our Legislative Action Network. There you will receive updates, next steps, and tools to help make your voice heard on the federal budget and all of the issues AIA is fighting for in Washington, DC.

The President’s federal budget proposal is far from a done deal, and odds are that many of the dramatic proposals will not get enough support to move forward. But now is the time to get involved and add your voice to the debate. Join the Legislative Action Network today and get up-to-the-minute updates on this continuing work.

Christina Mason is AIA's Director of Federal Relations.

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