White House calls for 5 percent cut in agency budgets

At a cabinet meeting Oct. 17, President Donald Trump asked all cabinet secretaries to reduce their agencies’ proposed budgets by 5 percent for fiscal year 2020. The call for cuts comes just days after the Treasury Department announcement that FY2018 showed a $779 billion deficit, a 17 percent increase over the previous year’s deficit.

The administration recommends a federal budget each year, but the final appropriation amounts are determined annually by Congress. In recent years, Congress has resisted adopting the recommended wholesale reductions in discretionary domestic spending, such as Interior and Agriculture Department programs that impact wildlife.

The administration recommended several budget cuts in FY2019 that were not carried out by Congress. The administration budget would have eliminated the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cooperative Research Unit Program and cut funding for the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program by more than half, but neither change was enacted by Congress.

With many wildlife management and conservation programs already chronically underfunded, an additional 5 percent reduction could have serious effects. The USGS Cooperative Research Units have been appropriated around $17 million for the last several years and needs an additional $6.6 million annually to fill outstanding vacant positions and meet the needs of cooperators. A 5 percent reduction could further hamper the program’s mission.

For the National Wildlife Refuge System, which is on track to receive about $490 million in FY2019, a 5 percent reduction would take the funding down to $465.5 million, far less than the system needs to fully meet its mission and address its maintenance backlog.

During the cabinet meeting, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney also cited the administration’s efforts to deregulate, noting that the administration has eliminated 176 regulations this year and generated savings of $33 billion over the last two years.

More details on this effort were announced that same day by the Office of Management and Budget. While the original deregulation goal, set forth in early 2017 by Executive Order 13771, was eliminating the cost of two rules for every new one, federal agencies have actually cut four rules for each new rule they have promulgated.

During the cabinet meeting, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke pointed out that Interior agencies have withdrawn over 150 proposed rulemaking actions, leading to $2.5 billion in savings.

Header Image: An alligator appears at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge system could struggle to meet its mission under a 5 percent budget cut. ©USFWS