The process of developing the District’s budget involves collaborative efforts on the part of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the Mayor and City Administrator, the Council, and the public.
Several divisions of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) are involved in the budget development process. The Office of Budget and Planning (OBP) develops systems for managing the budget development process, makes technical adjustments where necessary, and publishes a “Baseline Budget” approximating the cost of continuing agency operations without changes in policy. At each department, agency fiscal staff (AFOs) input budget figures and make changes as directed by OBP, OCA, and Council. In addition, the Office of Revenue Analysis (ORA) analyzes economic data to develop the District’s revenue estimates.
The Office of the City Administrator (OCA) works with District agencies to analyze and develop policy recommendations for the Mayor’s consideration. These recommendations include cost savings proposals necessary to balance the budget, in accordance with the requirements of the Home Rule Charter.
Before the Mayor proposes the budget, the Council holds public oversight hearings on the performance of each agency. After the Mayor’s budget has been released, the Council conducts a second round of public hearings on the proposed budget for each agency. The Council make may changes to the budget, as long as the budget remains balanced.
The District budget has three main components: the Budget Request Act, the Budget Support Act, and the Proposed Budget and Financial Plan.
The Budget Request Act is the appropriations bill that is ultimately forwarded to Congress and the President. Unlike other bills passed by the Council, the Budget Request Act is considered approved after a single reading.
The Budget Support Act is a piece of local legislation. It makes the changes to District law that are necessary to implement the budget. These changes can include adjustments to tax rates, legislative establishment of new programs, and other amendments to the DC Official Code.
The Proposed Budget and Financial Plan, consisting of approximately 3,100 pages published in seven volumes, is not a legislative item but a long book describing the budget. The volumes are organized as follows:
Volume 1 – Executive summary, description of budgetary and financial management policies, multiyear financial plan, citywide summary tables, and a detailed chapter on revenues.
Volumes 2 and 3 – Agency budget chapters outlining the proposed operating budget for each agency.
Volumes 4 and 5 – Operating appendices including tables describing the proposed operating budget in greater detail.
Volume 6 – Capital appendices outlining the budget for each capital project by agency (excluding Highway Trust Fund projects).
Volume 7 – Highway Trust Fund projects administered by the District Department of Transportation and eligible for Federal funds.
These volumes are supplemented by special studies published by the CFO and by additional supporting information.
The annual operating budget development process follows this general timeline:
OBP issues guidelines and technical instructions, which agencies use to prepare their initial budget estimates. As part of these instructions, each agency receives a “target” level of Local Funds; this target serves as a constraint within which the initial budget estimates must fall. The targets are set by OCA.
Agency Budget Development (October – December)
Agencies submit initial budgets and identify areas in potential need of technical adjustment.
Budget Analysis (January – March)
OBP reviews initial budget submissions to ensure adherence to the established guidelines, and approves any technical adjustments that it deems necessary. In February, OBP publishes its Baseline Budget.
OCA analyzes budget submissions and works with agencies to develop potential savings or policy initiatives.
Revenue Estimates (February and May)
ORA updates revenue estimates on a quarterly basis. The February estimate establishes the revenue constraint on the Mayor’s budget proposal, and the May estimate does the same before Council adopts the budget.
The Mayor submits the budget on a deadline determined by the Council. The FY 2010 budget will be submitted March 20, 2009.
Council Review (March – May)
Committees of the Council hold public hearings on the budget of each agency. Committees make budget recommendations at mark-ups, and then the full Council considers the budget.
Submission to Congress and the President (June)
Once the District’s budget has been approved, it is transmitted to Congress and the President. Congress must enact appropriations for the District (including via continuing resolution whenever the fiscal year begins before Congress has approved appropriations acts). In recent years, Congress has not substantially altered the locally-funded portions of the District’s budget.