February 17, 2015
Three graduates from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University have helped to craft the FY 2016 budget released by the White House on February 2.
Travis Stalcup, ‘13; Benton Arnett,’14; and Patrick Issa, ’13, were each involved in developing parts of the nearly $4 trillion budget that was released to the public and sent to Congress. All are employed as program examiners in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), part of the Executive Office of the President.
As program examiners, each of the Bush School graduates has specific areas of responsibility for developing the president’s budget and serving as a liaison with federal departments on budget matters. Stalcup works with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) programs related to research and development and weapons of mass destruction. Patrick Issa is the liaison to the State Department’s economic programs, working as a Presidential Management Fellow on loan from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Benton Arnett works on nuclear energy issues at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Stalcup and Arnett are also Presidential Management Fellows, a flagship program designed to develop a cadre of future government leaders.
The budget process begins when the president submits a detailed budget request for the coming fiscal year, which begins on October 1. This budget tells Congress what the president recommends for overall federal fiscal policy and signals the president’s recommendations for spending and tax policy changes. Congress then develops the budget resolution, which, when passed by both houses, will set the specific funding levels for the government.
Stalcup explained that the role of the examiner in this process is to be the point of contact for the department with OMB.
“The department, in my case, DHS, prepares the budget proposal, which comes to the examiner. Then we have budget hearings to review and analyze those proposals. After that, I make my recommendations, which eventually end up with the director of OMB, who makes the final decision,” Stalcup said. “It’s a very collaborative process, requiring good communication between OMB and the various agencies of government.”
Issa said he was excited to be part of something historic.
“Our efforts over the past six months have directly contributed to the formulation of the federal budget, and that is now a part of the nation’s history,” he said.
All three examiners work in the New Executive Office Building near the White House and have had opportunities to actually be in and around the mansion.
“I was actually in the State Dining Room just a few feet away from President Obama when he announced the appointments of Shaun Donovan as the new OMB director and fellow Texan Julian Castro as the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development,” Stalcup said. “I’ve also been on the White House lawn when President Obama arrived in Marine One, and that’s an exciting sight.”
As for how his Bush School studies have affected his career, Stalcup noted the difference between academe and the real world of government service.
“When you study public policy in graduate school, you tend to focus on the upper echelons of government and the decisions made at that level. Here at OMB, we get what I’d call a bird’s eye view of government and are able to peer down into the bureaucracy and work to improve governance and policy, which is what I want to do in government service. For example, when a presidential initiative is announced, it is the culmination of months of work by dedicated civil servants who game out various options and strategies well before the announcement is made. I’ve watched this process, and it confirms my belief that I now work with the smartest people I know, and that’s exciting and energizing,” he added.
Stalcup said that his academic experience at the Bush School enhanced his ability to be effective as an OMB examiner.
“I learned how to ask the right question, how to parse complex data, and how to analyze policy issues and reach a conclusion,” he said. “The former dean of the Bush School, Andy Card, who had been chief of staff in the White House, was also a great help to me while I was a student. I got to know him while working on the Habitat house project the Bush School students funded and built; and he was kind enough to write a recommendation for this job, which I’m sure made a difference in my being hired.”
Bush School Dean Ryan Crocker noted that the level of work being done by these alums reflects well on the Bush School.
“The fact that each of these graduates is engaged in this key government operation is a testament to their abilities and hard work as well as to the excellent preparation they received at the Bush School. We’re proud of all of them,” Crocker added.