- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2002

Unveiled yesterday, the $2.13 trillion budget President Bush proposed for fiscal 2003 has two particularly striking features. The first is that this is clearly a national-security budget. The second is that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has introduced the welcome concepts of management and accountability into the federal budget process.

On the national-security front, 2003 budget authority for the Department of Defense would increase by $45 billion, or 13.5 percent, to $379 billion. It represents the largest percentage increase since Ronald Reagan began reinvigorating America's armed forces in the early 1980s. Defense spending for 2007 is projected to total $451 billion. Large though these figures appear to be, defense spending during the next five years would still average only 3.4 percent of total economic output. In other words, Mr. Bush's national defense budget is clearly affordable.

Total spending for homeland security will increase next year to $38 billion, representing a virtual doubling of the pre-September 11 level. Federal funding for "first responders" firefighters, rescue squads, emergency medical personnel and other local workers who are the first to arrive at "ground zero" will increase twelvefold next year to $3.5 billion. Nearly $6 billion, or more than four times current spending, would fund improvements in the nation's public health care system in response to the increased threat of bioterrorism.

If national defense and homeland security are budget priorities, other programs are hardly ignored. Non-national-security spending would increase between 2 percent and 3 percent at a time when the consumer price index and other inflation gauges have been running significantly below 2 percent a year. Over 10 years, the budget would allocate nearly $200 billion to reform Medicare, including providing a prescription drug benefit for the elderly.

On the management front, OMB has introduced the audacious concept of accountability and performance measurement. This year's budget incorporates the President's Management Agenda, which aims to reform federal management and improve governmental performance through the introduction of five government-wide initiatives. These initiatives measure how well agencies and departments maximize the talent of their human capital; take advantage of competitive sourcing; improve financial performance; exploit the benefits of Internet-based technology; and integrate budget expenditures and performance. Employing a simple "traffic light" grading system (green for success, yellow for mixed results and red for unsatisfactory), OMB assessed how each federal department and agency performed in each of the five initiatives. Perhaps the most eye-popping pages of the slick, color-filled budget document were pages 49-50, which summarized the results of the Executive Branch Management Scorecard. Of the 130 traffic-light signals for the 26 agencies and departments, a stunning 110 were glaring red circles, including the five categories for OMB itself.

In its effort to achieve budgetary accountability, OMB did not assess the White House's performance. So, here is a simple standard: Having submitted a reasonable budget for 2003, Mr. Bush should be graded by how often he uses his veto pen and how well he exploits his astronomical political capital to enforce his spending blueprint.

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