When HHS released ONC’s proposed FY2017 budget last winter, almost all attention focused on one part, a $22 million increase for interoperability. While the increase is notable, I think ONC’s full $82 Million budget deserves some attention.
ONC’s FY2017 Spending Plan.
Table I, summarizes ONC’s plan for Fiscal Year 2017, which runs from October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017. The first thing to note is that ONC’s funding would change from general budget funds, known as Budget Authority or BA, to Public Health Service Evaluation funds. HHS’ Secretary may allocate up to 2.1 percent of HHS’ funds to these PHS funds. This change would not alter Congress’ funding role, but apparently signals HHS’s desire to put ONC fully in the public health sector.
What the ONC Budget Shows and What it Doesn’t
ONC’s budget follows the standard, federal government budget presentation format. That is, it lists, by program, how many people and how much money is allocated. In this table, each fiscal year, beginning with FY2015, shows the staffing level and then spending.
Staffing is shown in FTEs, that is, full time equivalent positions. For example, if two persons work 20 hours each, then they are equivalent to one full time person or FTE.
Spending definitions for each fiscal year is a little different. Here’s how that works:
- FY2015 – What actually was spent or how many actually were hired
- FY2016 – The spending and hiring Congress set for ONC for the current year.
- FY2017 – The spending and hiring in the President’s request to Congress for next year.
If you’re looking to see how well or how poorly ONC does its planning, you won’t see it here. As with other federal and most other government budgets, you never see a comparison of plans v how they really did. For example, FY2015 was the last complete fiscal year. ONC’s budget doesn’t have a column showing its FY2015 budget and next to it, what it actually did. If it did, you could see how well or how poorly it did following its plan.
You can’t see the amount budgeted for FY2015 in ONC’s budget, except for its total budget. However, if you look at the FY2016 ONC budget, you can see what was budgeted for each of its four programs. While the budget total and the corresponding actual are identical -$60,367,000, the story at the division level is quite different.
ONC FY2015 Budget v Actual
|FY2015 Budget $||FY2015 Actuals $||Diff|
|Policy Development and Coordination||12,474||13,112||638|
|Standards, Interoperability, and Certification||15,230||15,425||195|
|Adoption and Meaningful Use||11,139||10,524||(615)|
Table II, shows this by comparing the FY2015 Enacted Budget from ONC’s FY2015 Actuals for its four major activities. While the total remained the same, it shows that there was a major shift of $638,000 from Meaningful Use to Policy. There was a lesser shift of $195,000 from Agency Support to Standards. These shifts could have been actual transfers or they could have been from under and over spending by the divisions.
Interestingly, Table III for staffing shows a different pattern. During FY2015, ONC dropped 25 FTEs, a dozen from Policy Development and the rest from Standards and Meaningful Use. That means, for example, that Policy Development had less people and more money during FY2015.
Budget v Actual Staffing FTEs
|Division||FY2015 Budget FTEs||FY2015 Actuals FTEs||Diff|
|Policy Development and Coordination||49||37||(12)|
|Standards, Interoperability, and Certification||32||26||(6)|
|Adoption and Meaningful Use||49||42||(7)|
To try to make sense of this, I looked at the current and past year’s budgets, but to no avail. As best I can tell is ONC made great use of contracts and other non personnel services. For example, ONC spent $30 Million on purchase/contracts, which is $8 million more than it did on its payroll.
ONC’s budget, understandably, concentrates on its programs and plans. It puts little emphasis on measuring its hiring and spending abilities. It’s not alone, budgets government and otherwise, are forecast and request documents. However, if we could know how plans went – without having to dig in last year’s weeds – it would let us know how well a program executed its plans as well as make them. That would be something worth knowing.