Vision and the US Government Concept of Operations
The "vision" thing
Ezra Klein got me going today with the last word in his first sentence “visions.” He used the term “politicians’ visions.”
Does anyone in government have a corner on vision? That is, are there any constraints on vision? Operationally, I think so.
Let me explain.
“A concept of operations (abbreviated CONOPS, CONOPs, or ConOps) is a document describing the characteristics of a proposed system from the viewpoint of an individual who will use that system. It is used to communicate the quantitative and qualitative system characteristics to all stakeholders. CONOPS are widely used in the military, governmental services and other fields.
Public and private enterprises are staffed with people who have different responsibilities. Executives have managerial responsibility with control of planning and budgeting. A financial officer (executive) is responsible for supporting the senior executive (CEO) in managing capital and resources within enterprise capacity – cash on hand, limits on borrowing and spending.
In government, there is an Executive Budget Office with financial planning and budgeting responsibility, though the executive branch is subject to constraints by Congress. Congress must pass laws that govern budgeting, funding, and appropriations.
Still, in government enterprise the Executive is responsible for vision and strategy. Congress is responsible for providing constraints.
Also in government, the Court determines the legality of the constraints imposed by Congress and the Executive.
Ezra Klein on budgets
“I love covering budgets. Budgets are where politicians have to be clear about their visions. They have to make the numbers add up, which means they have to be (relatively) honest about their choices. That exercise can reveal surprising truths.
You would never know from the rhetoric in President Obama's budget speech that there are broad swaths of government policy on which he and Paul Ryan mostly agree. But if you look at their budgets, there's actually a surprising amount of convergence: Neither man's budget makes any changes to Social Security. Both budgets are content to find their savings elsewhere. Another: Both men have proposed capping Medicare's rate of growth at GDP+.5% (that is to say, Medicare's budget could grow by however fast the economy grew, plus half a percentage point. So if the economy grew by 3%, Medicare's budget could increase by 3.5%). They would hold Medicare to that growth rate in different ways, but, over the past year, they have actually converged on how much spending is appropriate in Medicare.
That's a change from past years. Ryan's 2010 Roadmap included major reforms to Social Security, including private accounts. His previous budget featured much more dramatic reforms to Medicare, including a much lower growth rate. But Ryan has backed off of his cuts to seniors. It is, after all, an election year.
Today, the difference in the two party's visions is really in their plans for everything else: Ryan's budget increases defense spending, cuts taxes on the rich, and pays for all that -- and for his deficit reduction -- with deep cuts to programs for the poor and to the basic services the federal government carries out. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 62 percent of Ryan's cuts are to programs for the poor. (Graph.)
Obama's budget, meanwhile, features large tax increases on the rich, some cuts to the defense budget, some cuts to government services, and relatively few cuts to programs for the poor. Consequently, his budget has somewhat less deficit reduction than Ryan does over the next 10 years.
Obama said much of this in his speech. He accurately explained where Ryan's cuts fall. He admitted that he intends to raise taxes on wealthier Americans. He clearly believes the voters will prefer his approach. And Ryan didn't contest any of it. He didn't say his budget doesn't focus its cuts on programs for the poor, or non-defense discretionary spending. His statement, which you can read in full here, lamented Obama's "empty promises" and efforts to "divide Americans." But it didn't argue that the president got Ryan's numbers wrong. And that's because he didn't: The numbers are there for everyone to see. The same goes for Obama's budget, which Republicans have often blasted for raising taxes on the rich and doing too little on the deficit.
And that's why I love budget season. The two parties have laid out their visions, in detail, in ways we can check, and are now arguing over them. That's what the election should be about.”