Senate Confirms White House Budget Director Committed to Shrinking Federal Government

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Publication date: 
22 February 2017
Number: 
22

Mick Mulvaney, the new director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, has been a leader in efforts to downsize the federal government. During the Senate confirmation process, he said he believes there is a “proper role for federal government in research.

On Feb. 16, by a vote of 51 to 49, the Senate confirmed fiscal hawk Mick Mulvaney as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Prior to his confirmation, Mulvaney had served as a U.S. representative from South Carolina since 2011. As a congressman, Mulvaney co-founded the conservative Freedom Caucus, served on the Republican Study Committee, which aims to dramatically reduce federal spending, and has led multiple efforts to downsize the government, including R&D activities.

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White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney sworn into office
Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney (being sworn in on left) has led efforts in Congress to significantly reduce federal spending of all kinds.

(Image credit – White House live stream)

Public domain

Mulvaney will now oversee a 500+ employee office - the largest within the White House - and coordinate the development of the president’s budget request to Congress. As OMB director he will also be responsible for reviewing and coordinating the development of regulatory and management policies across the federal government.

Today, President Trump welcomed Mulvaney and other incoming administration officials in a speech in the White House Roosevelt Room. The president articulated a clear mission for his Cabinet with respect to stewardship of federal finances, remarking:

The budget we’re inheriting…is a mess. The finances of our country are a mess.  But we’re going to clean them up. … I want the American people to know that our budget will reflect their priorities. We’ll be directing all of our departments and agencies to protect every last American and every last tax dollar. No more wasted money. ...

We’re going to be spending the money in a very, very careful manner.  Our moral duty to the taxpayer requires us to make our government leaner and more accountable. We must do a lot more with less. And we must stop the improper payments and the abuses, negotiate better prices, and look for every last dollar of savings.

We’ve already imposed hiring freezes on nonessential government workers, and part of our commitment is to continue to do that for the American taxpayer. … We’re going to run government smoothly, efficiently, and on behalf of the very hardworking taxpayers -- something that the taxpayers haven’t seen in a long time.

Budget request likely in May, ‘skinny budget’ in March

Mulvaney’s first major task as director is to manage Trump’s budget request to Congress for fiscal year 2018. While budget law requires the president to submit the request by the first full week in February, that deadline has already passed. First-year presidents typically miss that mark. Given the delays in Mulvaney’s Senate confirmation, a detailed fiscal year 2018 federal budget is not expected from the White House until May.

However, CQ Roll Call reports that the administration is aiming to release a so-called “skinny budget” outline in mid-March. That document will likely highlight the administration’s high-level funding priorities, but will leave funding requests, including those for specific science programs, to the final budget. Meanwhile, in addition to reviewing the incoming fiscal year 2018 budget request, Congress will still be responsible for finishing work on 11 of the 12 fiscal year 2017 spending bills by April 28.

Later in the year, Mulvaney may also co-author the annual memorandum that outlines the administration’s S&T priorities for the coming year, should the administration continue that practice. In past administrations, the memorandum was a joint product of OMB and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and typically was released in the summer.

Mulvaney supports ‘proper’ government role in research

The question of whether and how Mulvaney will prioritize federal investments in science was on at least one senator’s mind during confirmation hearings. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised the subject during a Jan. 24 Senate Budget Committee confirmation hearing, asking the nominee whether he agrees that scientific innovation and breakthroughs can create new businesses and industries.

Mulvaney replied, “American history shows that to be true. … Generally I do believe that there is a proper role for the federal government in research.” When Harris pressed further on the value of the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health grants, Mulvaney explained further:

When we look at grant programs like the one that you just mentioned, the key is not the amount of the grant to begin with, but what we’re getting for the taxpayer dollars.

Mulvaney’s emphasis on taxpayer return on investment for federal R&D is consistent with the message of his opening statement that major changes are needed to how the federal government budgets and spends in order to ensure efficiency and accountability. In that statement, he remarked,

Fundamental changes are necessary in the way Washington spends and taxes if we truly want a healthy economy. This must include changing our government’s long term fiscal path, which is unsustainable. Part of that also means taking a hard look at government waste and ending it. American taxpayers deserve a government that is efficient, effective and accountable.

Mulvaney pushed to cut NSF and DOE science

If the administration’s goal is to reduce spending, Mulvaney’s congressional record indicates that he might be prepared to slash science funding alongside nearly every other federal program.

Matt Hourihan, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has reviewed Mulvaney’s voting record on science funding along with his broader fiscal views. Hourihan notes that Mulvaney voted in favor of a failed amendment in 2012 that would have cut the NSF budget by $1.3 billion, at that time nearly one-fifth of the grant-making agency’s budget. In addition, Mulvaney was the sponsor of a separate amendment the same year, also unsuccessful, that would have cut the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, and Office of Fossil Energy, by 24 percent each, alongside cuts to other DOE programs. The amendment exempted the research and technology programs within the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Office of Nuclear Energy from these cuts.

Mulvaney’s support for cutting federal science at this scale is consistent with his support for capping overall federal spending. For instance, the Republican Study Committee’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposal, embraced by Mulvaney, would have slashed not just the science agencies but all non-defense discretionary spending by 25 percent.

Mulvaney has also called for steep reductions in defense spending. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was the sole Republican to vote against Mulvaney, citing concerns about his support for cuts to the military’s budget. In a speech on the Senate floor, McCain said,

I will vote to oppose Congressman Mulvaney’s nomination because it would be irresponsible to place the future of the defense budget in the hands of a person with such a record and judgment on national security. … There are few people whose views and record are more representative of the dysfunction that has gripped Washington for the last several years...

In his own speech, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) spoke in favor of the nomination, saying Mulvaney would be a voice for “fiscal restraint” and “responsible budgets.