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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Crosscut Budgets in Ecosystem Restoration Initiatives: Examples and Issues for Congress

Pervaze A. Sheikh
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Clinton T. Brass
Analyst in Government Organization and Management

In the last 30 years, the United States has devoted enormous effort and committed billions of dollars toward restoring large ecosystems such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. These ecosystem restoration initiatives generally address multiple objectives that go beyond restoring the ecosystem, such as water conveyance and levee stability. Consequently, these initiatives involve many stakeholders conducting and implementing a variety of restoration activities and other projects. Coordinating and overseeing the implementation and funding of such projects and activities can be challenging, and sometimes controversial. To address the complexity of organizing, managing, and implementing ecosystem restoration initiatives, some agencies involved in restoration initiatives have implemented crosscut budgets.

At its most basic level, a crosscut budget is often used to present budget information from two or more agencies whose activities are targeted at a common policy goal or related policy goals. Crosscut budgets can assist in making data from multiple agencies more understandable, and could be used to inform congressional oversight committees, participating agencies, and stakeholders implementing an ecosystem initiative. A crosscut budget may also be used to track program accomplishments, measure progress towards achieving program goals, or compare activities conducted by various agencies aimed at the same goal.

When designing a crosscut budget, there are several potential elements that can be considered, including the scope of the crosscut, or which types of programs and activities should be included in the crosscut; levels of aggregation within the crosscut; stages of funding tracked by the crosscut (e.g., appropriations or outlays); time frame covered; timing of submission and updates; assigning responsibility for gathering the data for the crosscut; and tracking progress of restoration activities and projects.

The variability in the design and implementation of crosscut budgets for ecosystem restoration initiatives generates several design questions. For example, some believe that funding amounts should be portrayed in relation to progress toward achieving restoration goals. Other issues include determining what programs to include or exclude in a crosscut budget, assigning accountability, and coordinating projects in an ecosystem restoration initiative.

Crosscut budgets can help address coordination and organizational issues in restoration initiatives. Some contend that expanding their breadth to track progress or evaluate success in restoration initiatives may make them more effective. Others, however, suggest that if crosscuts become too unwieldy and complex, or are not designed to address the needs of specific audiences and stakeholders, they may not communicate information in an effective and timely manner.

Date of Report: August 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RL34329
Price: $29.95

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