Surviving the Coming 50% Budget Cuts

Cut your budget by 50%…  Impossible you say.  I would tend to agree with you if all things stay the same.  What would happen if NOAA or USGS faced 50% cuts?  What about education, emergency services, health care, environmental protection?  How many of us are employed by these entities?  How many of us depend on the programs and services provided by these agencies?  What about grant funding from other entities, especially federal or state governments?  Even charities are faced with the same difficult question.  How would your life change if there was a 50% cut in funds coming to your program, department, agency or organization?

Most of us have had to go through the budgeting exercise in the past several years.  Provide to leadership a budget reduction plan of 2%, 4%, 6%, 8%, or even 10%.  The cuts have somewhat stabilized, but we’re starting to see a new issue coming over the horizon – reductions in federal grant funding.  Many of our previous actions have been on the topic of non-federal fund cuts, but how much trouble are we in if we were to see a 10% reduction in federal funds?  I’m going further than that though.  I am proposing 50% as a target because it’s something that seems “too big” or even impossible to fathom.  It’s something that can’t have a bandaid fix – it requires tough decisions.  But it’s something we have to come to grips with.

In the past year, I’ve thrown this number out in several conversations, and as time has gone on, I am seeing more people really believe that 50% cuts in funding are probably more likely than 10% cuts.  So now what?  Do we start to plan for across the board percentage cuts?  Do we look for programs that we don’t think are essential?  How do we determine what is essential and non-essential?  What about me, what about my job and my family?  The world is rapidly changing around us each and every day, and today we must start working on ways to survive a 50% budget cut.  Am I talking about Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Information Technology (IT), emergency management, public safety, education, social programs?  Yes!!!  No program or area is immune from this issue.  Since this applies to you and to me, we all have an opportunity (and a responsibility) to participate in moving towards the solution, and below are some key themes from several years of observation and reflection that must be addressed in order to successfully move us forward to survive this process.

  • Knowledge Management
    • What are our key essential functions?
    • Why do we do what we do?
    • What tasks are we doing – are they all essential?
    • What tasks are we supposed to be doing, but we don’t have the time to do?
    • Who is required to accomplish the tasks and keep things going?
    • Who do we currently partner with or with whom should we partner in the future) to accomplish mission critical objectives?
    • Am I the only person who can do this task?  Is there someone else who would be better suited to do this portion of what I do?
    • How are we performing our daily tasks?
    • What issues are taking up the most time in our days and  weeks?
    • Are there ways to automate or improve efficiency of performing our daily tasks?
    • What are the rules or ontologies that describe how our discipline operates?
  • Connecting the Dots
    • Where are the connections between customer, provider, programs, departments, businesses?
    • Who do we depend upon for services and what inter-dependencies exist?
    • Who else is asking similar questions to us?
      • A great example of this is with the issue of floods / flooding where USGS, US Army Corps of Engineers, and  NOAA/NWS all are major players.  What data do each of these partners have?  What are they responsible for?  Agency A may have unanswered questions, but Agency B may have a solution, but they don’t have a requirement to implement that part of a program.  Agency A should invest more time in the relationship with Agency B instead of starting from scratch.  Likewise, Agency B has a responsibility to share that knowledge so their partners can be more efficient.
    • Who else do we need to engage that we haven’t talked to before?
      • Are we talking to all areas of our community?  This isn’t just about government and business?  It involves participation by all areas of life – everyday people, communities of faith, charities, schools (private and public), businesses, government.  Few will be involved in ALL of these groups, but each has a role to play in the survival of our communities – get connected, stay connected
  • Collaborative Intelligence
    • Social media concepts have a major role to play in this area.  This doesn’t mean Twitter, Facebook, Web2.0, etc.  This means creating environments where ideas can be shared and where feedback can be provided to improve upon previously submitted ideas.
    • What questions remain unanswered?  How can we connect with others who might have input / possible solutions to our questions?  How can the pieces of the puzzle be combined in a different way from our current view
    • How can the combination of our ideas be more effective and powerful than the individual concepts on their own merit?
    • What questions can we only solve through collaboration and struggle to find a solution?  Sometimes, it’s this process that helps us identify and come back to the best solutions
    • Examples:
  • Vision / Purpose
    • Programmatic Vision
      • Know where your program is going, and don’t try to solve something apart from other areas.  If you “solve” problems in a vacuum, it will end up creating more problems to clean up down the road.
      • A great example of this was found in a November 25, 2011 article in Federal Computer Week entitled “DOD looks to semantic web for better data-sharing, cost savings.
        • Quote from April 4, 2011 Memo by  DOD Deputy Chief Management Officer Beth McGrath:  “DOD historically spends more than $6 billion annually developing and maintaining a portfolio of more than 2,000 business systems and web services. Many of these systems, and the underlying processes they support, are poorly integrated. They often deliver redundant capabilities that optimize a single business process with little consideration to the overall business enterprise.  It is imperative, especially in today’s limited budget environment, to optimize our business processes and the systems that support them to reduce our annual business systems spending.”
    • Personal Vision
      • Stand where you are supposed to stand – You aren’t Steve Jobs, George Lucas, Bill Gates, Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln or George Washington.  You’re you – but that’s all you need to be.  When you stand where you should stand and do the things that you need to do in order to solve the local challenges that you encounter each and every day, you will change the world.  Be consistent over time.  Know what you know and believe.  And tie your efforts to a larger vision/purpose – that will drive you to collaborate, innovate, learn, network and improve communication.
  • Innovation
    • This isn’t the first time we’ve faced these challenges, but we have seen that innovations in transportation, communication, health care, construction are essential to growth.  Guess which decade saw these inventions – the bulldozer, radio / television, air mail, penicillin, band-aids, traffic lights, rockets, and the combustion engine automobile?  All of these were created in the 1920’s (“Roaring Twenties”).  But do you know about the Depression of 1920-21?  Unemployment was near 12%, the stock market fell nearly 50%, and there were major challenges recovering from wartime.  Sounds pretty familiar?  Innovation will be critical to our success.
  • Integration
    • Integration doesn’t just mean IT system or database integration.  It also speaks to these 5 key areas.  These 5 steps / areas are good in and of themselves, and by themselves, they might help you handle a 5-10% cut, but you’re going to need all of the above.  If we continue to do business like we’re doing it today, or run government like we do today, we won’t survive.  This isn’t doom and gloom, it’s just saying that the amount of duplication, waste and inefficiency from poor communication are hitting us harder than we realize, and we have an opportunity to change that – one person, one program at a time.

We aren’t the first people in history to face these challenges and we won’t be the last.  Do your part.  Do you have an idea on how to make things more efficient?  Do you see waste and abuse?  Do you know the people that need to be connected w/ one another to solve a critical problem?  Are you looking to retire soon?  Have you shared with others the wealth of knowledge and experience that you have in your head?

If you can say “yes” to any of these questions, you have a critical role to play.  You are being asked to participate in making a difference and helping us all “make it through” some of the toughest times we’ve seen.  You’re being asked to stand where you need to stand, and be the part that you’re here to play.  The same is true of many around you.  The task is overwhelming if we look at the entire problem and try to solve it, but when you stand where you need to be, and when you look around to your right and your left you will see that you’re not alone and that there are many standing as well, right where they need to be.


One comment on “Surviving the Coming 50% Budget Cuts

  1. Pingback: Surviving the Coming 50% Budget Cuts – Part II « disastermapping

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