Mile 0 and The Federal Budgeting Process
In Key West, there is a well-known landmark depicted in highway signage as Mile 0. It is the beginning or the end of US Highway 1 which runs the length of the entire east coast of the United States. Its opposite end is at Fort Kent, Maine. Mile 0 is also at the intersection of Fleming Street and Whitehead Street, as US 1 is known locally in Key West. Amidst the appeal of Key West’s Mile 0 and the excitement of US Highway 1, it’s essential not to overlook the significance of the budgeting process that shapes the federal fiscal year.
A Local Moniker
When I was growing up in Boca Raton, FL, Highway 1 was known locally as Federal Highway and remains so today. In each locality, US 1 will take on a more localized moniker. If you can remember back to the days before I-95 was completed, you likely spent some time on US 1 when traveling the east coast.
Key West being Key West, there are souvenir shops on two of the four corners where one can buy tchotchkes and trinkets to memorialize the visit to this singular beginning of the 2370-mile highway.
The Budgeting Process
I couldn’t help but consider that I was noticing Mile 0 in Key West as we are beginning to talk about the approaching end of fiscal year 2023 (September 30th), and the fresh beginning of a new fiscal year 2024 (October 1st). The pundits are at it already with the threat of a Continuing Resolution and the likelihood of Congress failing to get its work done before a dreaded shutdown. Another moniker for this period of uncertainty is the Silly Season.
Key West’s tourism taglines are “Come as you are,” and “Close to perfect, far from normal.” It seems they fit the place in time with the budget process.
Unlike Key West’s Mile 0, the federal budgeting process doesn’t really have a fixed zero-point from which it starts. Yes, there are dates, targets, wickets, and gates. There are also cliffs, collapses of talks, conferences, and various gangs of senior leaders who hammer out end-game deals. But the budgeting process remains in perpetual motion.
At this writing, FY23 is coming to a close, FY24 is being finalized and approved by Congress. FY25 is being developed and polished at the agency levels in the executive branch. FY26 is within sight for those with good ideas. Here’s more evidence of the perpetuity of the budgeting process:
- Pundits will sound the alarm that a shutdown is looming.
- We will have a CR for at least the period of October to Thanksgiving if not Christmas.
- The government will continue to let contracts, keep the lights on, run the 24-hour command centers, keep security in place, and otherwise present the veneer of functionality no matter what happens with funding.
- “Anomalies” will be approved by Congress allowing exceptions to any threat of a spending freeze.
- The sun will rise and set each day on Capitol Hill.
The markers of the budget process are guide posts. They are not the same as Mile 0 in Key West. The budget development by two branches of government, and its execution by the executive branch, is designed to flow with these changing currents of government. None of us like that a single Senator or a small group in the House can stop the process at any point. But that’s how our founders and their successors have designed our process.
Understanding the Intricacies
What can we do to take the best advantage?
- Acknowledge the intricacies and inefficiencies of co-equal branches of government having their say.
- Understand the differences between a pundit pulling the proverbial fire alarm and the normal course of government churn.
- Know where you are with respect to contractual obligations with your government customer: cost, schedule, delivery, and capacity for example.
- Communicate regularly with your customer when the process is squeezing your ability to perform—the customer does not know your business the way you know it.
- Don’t focus solely on the immediate situation. Recognize you have multiple fiscal years with which you should be aligning additional mid- and long-term opportunities related to the budgeting process.
The end is not nigh.
If you have a specific concern as we approach the fiscal year’s end, I’m always happy to offer counsel. Some seek such counsel through my online forum, www.thebigtop.biz, where issues like these are discussed in detail in near-real time.
Need assistance engaging with the federal government for policy or accessing funding for your product? Reach out, and I’ll guide you through.
For a copy of my book, Pitching the Big Top: How to Master the 3-Ring Circus of Federal Sales, and more information on federal sales, visit Capitol Integration.