TWS joins coalition effort to strengthen conservation funding

By Jamila Blake

©Bureau of Land Management

The Fiscal Year 2018 budget process has begun for the 115th Congress. With the new administration looking to reduce spending across the federal government; many organizations, agencies, and coalitions are working to secure funding for different budget function allocations. On Feb. 14, America’s Voice for Conservation, Recreation and Preservation (AVCRP) coalition sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

More than 150 groups, including The Wildlife Society, have joined onto the AVCRP coalition letter in support of the strongest possible funding for conservation of America’s wildlife, lands, water, cultural resources, and their associated economic and recreational benefits. The letter urges crafting of a FY18 budget that avoids sequestration. According to the Congressional Budget Office, “sequestration refers to automatic spending cuts that occur through the withdrawal of funding for certain (but not all) government programs.”

Funding for conservation in these areas falls under Budget Function 300: Natural Resources and Environment. There are approximately 20 budget functions – which are comprised from the President’s budget and Congress’ budget resolution – that make up the federal budget. Budget functions are similar to categories for the federal budget and include all spending for a given topic. Function 300 funding supports important programs, like national parks, wildlife refuges, and forests and recreation sites, as well as programs in federal departments and agencies, like Interior, Agriculture, and the U.S. Environmental Protection agency. This portion of the federal budget is steadily declining and only receives a little more than one percent of total funds. Along with other nondefense spending, Function 300 was sequestrated through the Budget Control Act of 2011. The result of the sequestration was an 8.2% cut in non-exempt nondefense discretionary funding and a 7.6% decrease to non-exempt nondefense mandatory programs (except for Medicare which was reduced by 2%).

Each year the federal budget process begins on the first Monday of February and is set to conclude by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year. It has become increasingly rare that either of these deadlines are met in a given year. If the budget is not established by Oct. 1, then Congress typically passes a Continuing Resolution to keep the federal government operating under the previous year’s funding.

Both houses must pass concurrent budget resolutions by Apr. 15 to set the 302(a) allocation level, which is the total level of budget authority. Then House and Senate Appropriations committees separate the money from the resolutions to set caps, or 302(b) allocations, for each appropriations bill developed by subcommittees.

Since 2011, 302(b) allocations for Function 300 have been steadily declining. The AVCRP coalition formed in 2011 in a response to the budget, which proposed massive cuts to discretionary spending and implemented the sequester for Function 300. Members of the AVCRP coalition are currently working to emphasize the importance of enhancing our nation’s outdoor heritage to Congress.

The Trump Administration intends to send the FY18 blueprint budget to Congress by Mar. 16.

Learn more about the U.S. Federal Budgeting Process in Section 5 of TWS’ Policy Toolkit.

Jamila Blake is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program. Read more of Jamila's articles here.