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No 21st Century American Vision – No Goals, No Plan = No Budget

I looked out the window last week and observed that my lemon tree needed pruning. It’s a source of frustration to me that this “dwarf” lemon tree refuses to remain shaped in the round. No matter what I do, six foot shoots grow straight out of its top every year.

The goal out my window was clear, a ball-shaped lemon tree; but how to reach the goal? I could pick up the phone, call the arborist, tell him to prune the tree and send me an invoice or I could pick up the phone, call my neighbor, ask him for his help and, together, spend a couple of hours, in fellowship, working on the pruning project. Time versus money – I choose to save money.

But saving money complicates the planning. What to do with the trimmings? The city recycling unit comes on Monday morning – if the trimmings are not on the neighborhood “pile” by 9 a.m. Monday, they’ll be sitting there for a week. My neighbor and I agreed to meet with ladder and tree trimmer tool at 7 a.m. Monday morning. I was dragging the last 6 foot section of trim to the pile when the recyclers arrived. By executing the plan perfectly, we restored the lemon tree’s shape – on time, on budget.

Budgeting

A budget is simply the costed-out tactical implementation of a plan. That’s a fact whether we are trimming my lemon tree, running Apple Inc., or governing the United States of America.

The budget of the United States is more complex than the budget to trim my lemon tree but the underlying relationship between goals, planning, and budgeting are exactly the same. The goal is an objective. The plan explains actions required to reach objective. The budget calculates whether the cost is justified by the objective.

Goals

When a potential new client contacts me regarding a strategic or tactical planning project, the first question I ask is “what is your goal”—“your desired outcome”. Without a specifically understood goal, the client cannot determine when the plan had been successfully executed. The team just keeps executing to infinity or bankruptcy – whichever comes first. It’s no different for the United States of America.

In the early 1960s, President Kennedy set a national goal of “sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to earth within a decade” – a clear goal around which the entire country was unified. Has there been another similar national goal set by a President since? I checked. There has been none.

The federal government is a client I would not take on. There’s no 21st Century American Vision – no integrated set of goals that the nation – the people have agreed to. Yes the majority of voters voted for “Hope and Change, Change You Can Believe In” but none of them can articulate the goal or point to a result of that change. How do we, as either citizens or politicians, agree we have achieved the right degree of change?

As a result – no vision, no goals, no plan = no budget. That is why we have seen Continuing Resolution after Continuing Resolution to “fund the government” without asking the question are we funding the right priorities, at the right level with the right resources? Unless we arrive at an adequate answer to that question, it is a sure prescription for national bankruptcy!

Predictable Debt Crisis

The USA faces a very predictable debt crisis – we even know when. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has warned that within our lifetimes – by 2038 – the National Debt held by domestic and foreign private and government interests will exceed 100% of US GDP. The more Debt the more government revenue is needed to pay the debt service and the less the less government will be able to spend for national defense or entitlements and other government services.

Threatened with the potential of bankruptcy or default, any competent corporate CEO would stop all extraneous activity – including new product introduction – devoting every waking hour to changing the company’s trajectory. The CEO would focus every employee, every resource, every plan, and tactic on one common goal – preventing bankruptcy.

Presidential Leadership

It is no different for President Obama. The 2013 government shutdown and the second debt crisis in 3 years are an opportunity for the President to be that CEO. He, alone, can marshal the people and resources of the nation behind a National Plan of Action.

Barack Obama, the most eloquent orator of his time, must offer the vision and lay out the obstacles to reaching the goals. Elected to lead all of the American people, he must quickly evolve from Democratic politician into consensus builder. He must stop pointing fingers and start building on areas of agreement.

Then, only then, can Congress develop a bi-partisan Budget that achieves a stable, prosperous, fiscally independent United States of America by 2038.

Photo Credit: Sam Pizzigati/Too Much

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