We recently starred down the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, but Congress and the President have yet to reach an agreement on the full Federal FY’18 budget. Though there are differing perceptions on what final agency budgets will turn out to be, most agree that civilian budgets will bear deep cuts in this fiscally hawkish political environment. The McKeon Group offers three key steps for agencies to prepare for the coming budget woes:

1. Prioritize your agency’s programs from first to last. Base the rating on efficacy and how closely each program aligns with the mission. As a leader of your agency, it is your primary responsibility to champion the agency mission. Scrutinize the ancillary, duplicative, and scope-creeped programs that are not inherently under the agency’s purview. Allot budget accordingly.

Even President Obama highlighted this in his 2011 State of the Union Address: “There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in freshwater, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater.”

Shrinking budgets demand a more efficient use of resources and, in some cases, handing over some authority to another agency that can streamline processes and programs.

2. Secondly, there are billions in improper payments that can be recovered and reallocated into the current fiscal year’s coffers to help cover budget shortfalls. There is a right and a legal way to recover those misspent funds.

Last year, federal agencies admitted to over $145 billion in improper payments. Yet, most have done little to successfully recover those taxpayer monies. Most duplicative payments, overpayments, or fraudulent payments are recoverable for up to three years. This means your recovery potential is actually three times what you submitted in your 2016 Performance & Accountability Report (PAR). When recovered, agencies can retain up to 45% of the money and reallocate those funds into the same fiscal year.

As an example, the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program under the Department of Education misspent $3.9B last year. Multiply that by three, then multiply by 45% and Ed now has an ‘extra’ $5,265,000,000 of their own funds to spend. Or, take plan B and suffer a 13.5% budget decrease.

Federal Law (IPERA and IPERIA) clearly states that if an agency is deemed noncompliant for three or more consecutive years for the same program or activity, then the agency must submit to Congress reauthorization proposals for those programs or activities, along with proposed statutory changes that may bring the agency into compliance. Thus, the burden is entirely on your shoulders if you don’t want to give Congress a legal reason to not re-authorize your non-compliant programs.

3. Thirdly, fill your gaps. If you don’t have the agency staff you require, cut and paste the parameters of another agency’s internship program onto your letterhead and quickly onboard college students. Hopefully, this will initiate your first success toward the ultimate HR gap fill when Baby Boomers retire.

Take the time to train each Program Manger the art of procurement. Don’t wait two years to get what you need in a full Request for Proposal (RFP), then deal with the protest, then rebid it, and then have GAO finally approve the incumbent vendor. Forget that! Determine what you need and procure it via a GSA Schedule e-buy or pre-competed GWAC or IDIQ. Empower your teams to offer suggestions where efficiencies can be implemented and reward the top two savings suggestions with a reasonable bonus.

Agencies are being compelled to do more with less. By prioritizing your program foci, refilling the agency’s coffers with recaptured funds, and cross-training current and future staff to be more dynamic, we can meet that goal.