ZAGATA: Did Anyone, Or Everyone Kill U.S. Pandemic Team?

VIEW FROM WEST DAVENPORT

Did Anyone, Or Everyone

Kill U.S. Pandemic Team?

By MIKE ZAGATA • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

A friend of mine commented that he was upset with the president because he had eliminated the Pandemic Response Team (PRT).

I didn’t know there was such a thing and I’m guessing that neither did the President.

Mike Zagata, DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and a former environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

However, the fact that my friend was blaming the President for eliminating it, and then a year or so later having us face a pandemic with the corona virus, prompted me to attempt to explain how the national budget process works.

Explaining the budget process will allow the reader to place blame where it belongs. That is, if indeed, there is blame to be placed.

The President, also referred to as the Administration, submits a budget to Congress for legislative approval. All budget legislation must start in the House of Representatives. Once passed by the House, it is sent to the Senate for approval and, if approved, it becomes law. That’s the simplified version.

Here’s what really happens.

The President sets a target for his spending called the budget. For example, President Trump made it clear that he wanted to rebuild our military and thus his final budget should reflect that.

Then two things happen. The director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) takes the President’s budget and allocates funds to the various agencies within the Administration. By “agencies,” I mean things like the Department of Defense, Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, EPA, Department of Homeland Security, etc. In general, the heads of those agencies make up the President’s Cabinet.

The OMB then directs the Secretaries (heads of the various agencies) to figure out how much money they need for the next year.

The agencies then prepare their agency’s budget by asking each of their internal departments to submit a budget and then adding them together into one budget for each agency.

The agency budgets are then submitted to the OMB. That’s where the lobbying begins as each agency head wants the budget they submitted to be fully funded.

However, the actual budget is supposed to balance against the amount of revenue the federal government expects to take in from taxes (that we pay) and other revenue sources.

When that doesn’t happen, the government will have a budget deficit that will add to our national debt. You and I aren’t allowed to do that – when our checkbook is empty, we’re broke. The federal government just prints more money and then raises our taxes to pay for it.

The OMB meets with representatives from the White House in an attempt to allocate money to meet the President’s priorities and still provide adequate funding for each agency while balancing the budget.

It is during this process that the Pandemic Response Team (PRT) might have been “cut” from the budget.

However, the amount of money involved is so small that it is very doubtful anyone ever said explicitly to cut the PRT – PRT was likely part of a bigger program, some of which could be cut with very little “pain.” Once the OMB completes this process, the Administration’s “approved” budget is sent back to the agencies. The amount of money approved for each agency is the amount that agency is allowed to seek from Congress – starting with the House. It is called the “pass back” budget.

Each agency then appears before the House Appropriations Committee to make the case for their budget. Members of the Committee ask the various agency heads, or their representatives, questions about their budget, including what’s in it and what’s not. This provides the second opportunity for the PRT to be included in the budget or axed.

Because the House is now controlled by the Democratic Party, the Democrats may also be responsible for the lack of funding for the PRT.

It is during the Appropriations process that the budget is carefully scrutinized and where lobbying is done on behalf of the various programs either included in, or left out of, the budget by the Administration’s budget. Thus, this is the part of the budget process where the PRT was likely not funded.

In other words, if the President’s budget doesn’t include something, anything, that Congress feels should be funded, the House Appropriations Committee can add it into the budget bill that it passes and sends along to the Senate.

Once passed by the Senate, it goes to the President for signature and, at that point, he could veto the entire bill. We know this because each year the President submits a “balanced” budget and Congress ads “pork” that leads to an unbalanced budget and deficit spending.

That is indeed how the process works. I lived it as Audubon’s director of Federal Relations. To place blame based on a lack of understanding of the budget process or unverified sources is simply not appropriate and serves to fuel the divisiveness leading to our current political climate. Now, if ever, is the time to come together irrespective of party affiliation.


2 thoughts on “ZAGATA: Did Anyone, Or Everyone Kill U.S. Pandemic Team?

  1. John Nader

    Mr. Zagata,

    Mr. Zagata is entitled to his opinion, but not his own set of facts. For the record, Bill Gates urged Trump to pay close attention to the possibility of pandemic and briefed him on this shortly after the 2016 election. Again, this is a matter of public record. The video is available. Gates had given a Ted Talk on this in 2015 in which he urged preparation. The president will not know every budget detail, but should be setting priorities. A budget proposal at any institution is really a document that sets priorities. Public health should be a priority. Public health is an executive responsibility. That’s why health departments at the state and federal levels are cabinet positions that report to the executive
    This is indeed a time to come together. So, perhaps it’s finally a good sign that the president has belatedly recognized the emergency, stopped criticizing the governors who are on the front lines, and begun providing accurate information.

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