Leaked Spreadsheet Purports to Outline Trump FY 2018 Budget Request

May 19, 2017

Last night, the centrist think tank Third Way released a 1,400-line Excel spreadsheet of what it said was a May 8 version of President Trump’s forthcoming fiscal 2018 budget request.

Is the document legit? The White House won’t say. But the format of the spreadsheet does look similar to the way that the White House Office of Management and Budget reports spending data in the Public Budget Database. And the discretionary spending totals for the agencies we looked at line up with the rounded numbers given by the Trump Administration in its mid-March budget outline.

The document is incomplete – total budget authority for FY 2018 only adds up to $1.93 trillion, so there are a couple of trillion dollars missing for things like Social Security and some other mandatory spending programs. (The spreadsheet includes the FAST Act contract authority levels for Highway Trust Fund programs and extension-baseline airport grant contract authority levels but neglects to include the $739 million in highway contract authority exempt from limit, which is probably a symptom of an incomplete spreadsheet, not a proposed policy change.)

But once you take the raw data and rearrange it in the way the Appropriations Committees present it, the total discretionary spending amount for the Department of Transportation lines up with the $16.2 billion promised in the March budget outline, as does the Army Corps of Engineers – Civil Works budget request of $5.0 billion. And within the DOT total, the spreadsheet does follow through with White House promises to zero out TIGER grants and essential air service subsidies and make significant cuts to mass transit capital investment grants and to Amtrak operating subsidies.

Having already assumed the above from the March outline, the first thing that struck this author about the USDOT totals in the spreadsheet is how minor the proposed cuts in administrative expenses are compared to what had been feared. Rumors at USDOT in January and February talked of cutbacks in the neighborhood of 20 percent, but Office of the Secretary administrative expenses are only cut 1.8 percent from 2017 enacted levels, and Federal Transit Administration administrative expenses are only cut 2.1 percent below 2017 enacted. And both are actually increases from the fiscal 2016 enacted level, which is clearly the baseline against which the 2018 spreadsheet was calculated since 2017 was a moving target until earlier this month. (The Federal Railroad Administration Safety and Operations account and the Railroad R&D account are both frozen at the 2016 enacted level.)

Compared to the just-enacted FY 2017 omnibus bill, the requested gross total of Department of Transportation discretionary appropriations are $3.1 billion below the 2017 level. $2.5 billion of that cut was outlined in March – zero for TIGER grants, zero for EAS, a cut of $642 million in subsidies for long-distance Amtrak routes and a reduction of FTA Capital Investment Grant appropriations to $1.232 billion ($1.181 billion below 2017), enough to pay off old grant agreements but not sign any new ones.

The other $641 million in proposed cuts were not spelled out in the March outline. FAA Operations would get a 1.3 percent cut versus 2017, FAA Facilities and Equipment would get a 4.2 percent cut, and FAA R&D would get a 15.0 percent cut. All told, that would save $282 million.

Some programs that got a big boost in the omnibus would be reverted back to their 2016 levels in the budget request. In addition to the aforementioned FRA accounts, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor grants would be frozen at the estimate 2016 level of $235 million (they were increased to $328 million by the Appropriations Committees in 2017). Likewise, the Maritime Administration’s security program would be frozen at the 2016 level of $210 million (it got bumped up to $300 million in 2017).

The table on the following page breaks down the USDOT numbers in the spreadsheet. (The article continues after.)

The spreadsheet obtained by Third Way does not appear to include any highway contract authority rescissions in 2018. This budget gimmick was proposed by President Obama in the 2017 budget to book $2.4 billion in paper savings; the Appropriations Committees reduced this to $857 million. As a result, the net spending total for USDOT proposed in the spreadsheet is only $2.3 billion below 2017 enacted, not $3.1 billion below.

And it is the net numbers that count towards the Budget Control Act’s spending caps. A critical part of the budget plan announced by President Trump in March is a reduction of the non-defense discretionary spending cap by $54 billion and an equivalent increase in the defense discretionary spending cap. (See Table 3 in the blueprint.) This will require a change in law, which will take 60 votes in the Senate. If the cap changes are not enacted, the Appropriations Committees will be under no pressure to enact non-defense spending cuts anywhere near the magnitude of those proposed by the Administration.

At the Transportation Security Administration, the leaked spreadsheet proposes $4.7 billion in net spending, which is $281 million less than the enacted 2017 level. But the spreadsheet does not show the assumptions for the amount of aviation security fees used to offset the gross spending and come up with the net total, so it is impossible to determine the “real” spending cut being proposed.

And at the Army Corps of Engineers water resources program, OMB has once again proposed cuts that Congress is very unlikely to approve. Indeed, it is striking how much the Trump budget outlined in the leaked spreadsheet resembles President Obama’s budget request for 2017, which was largely ignored by Congress. The format of the spreadsheet does not show account totals for the Construction, Operations and Maintenance, and Mississippi River System accounts but instead shows general fund totals for those accounts and then shows amounts from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and Inland Waterways Trust Fund without showing how much from each Trust Fund goes to each account. The following table shows enacted 2016 and 2017 appropriations and the 2017 and 2018 budget requests in this format.





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