Department of De-engineering

Department of De-engineering

by / December 31, 1995
Writing a budget is one of the key functions of an administrator. Allow sufficient time to ensure the budget is completed in a timely manner.

Reality: Never start a budget until the week it is due. Never let staff compile budget-supporting figures until at least three weeks after it has been submitted.

Budgets must be accurate and factual. Political and administrative and public oversight groups depend on budgetary data -- don't betray that trust.

Reality: No one reads your budget. Figure out this year's budget by taking last year's figures, adding 5 percent for inflation, 10 percent for ha-ha's and 3.756 percent to make the numbers come out uneven. Fill the individual line items with the batting averages of your 10 favorite baseball players multiplied by 10,000 if you're a state agency; 100,000 if you're a federal agency; 1,000,000 if you're part of the military.

Remember, legislative bodies have the final say on your budget. They want to know they are getting something for their money. Make sure your budget accurately reflects the contribution your agency makes to the quality of life in your city or state.

Reality: Find out who is the biggest contributor to the chairman of the committee that oversees your agency, or the largest employer in their district. Put their name on the front cover of your budget right above the name of your agency. Put the names of the legislator's children on the back page, right next to the words "Grand Total."

Budgets are public documents. They must be understandable by the public. It is important for the non-technical public to be able to understand what their taxes are buying.

Reality: Don't use any words shorter than eight letters long, 12 to 15 letters is a good average to shoot for. Have your cousin Flow, the one with dyslexia, retype the entire document, starting with the last page and working backwards.

Budgets give the hard and cold dollars and cents of what your agency will do in the coming year. Make sure it includes all the key points of your agency's legislative mandate, as well as your strategic plans and any court ordered actions.

Reality: This is your agency. Who does the Legislature think it is anyway?

Budget writing is an important organizing function for your office. It can help bring your agency together, focus your staff on common goals and reinforce your agency's dedication to its high purpose. Done well, it helps to bring about the ultimate reward for all government employees: the satisfaction of a job well done and a serviced, happy constituency.

Reality: Budget writing is a nightmare, best endured in the company of good friends like Mr. Jack Daniels.

Have a humorous anecdote about technology, or a low-technology solution for some state and local government problem? Fax it to: Department of De-engineering at 916/932-1470 or e-mail to

David Aden
David Aden is a writer from Washington, D.C.