Lots of reactions, none particularly good, from Episcopalians concerning the statement on the proposed budget.
Most of these entries come from comments on the Cafe articles “Weakened addition: proposed budget does not add up” and “Executive Council meeting in Salt Lake City“.
Susan Snook begins:
The fact that something as important as the draft triennial budget could be so filled with errors speaks volumes about how dysfunctional our budget processes are. Reform is desperately needed – the way we spend our money is too important to be subject to errors like this. I suppose the good side of it is that the outrageous problems with this budget (increasing administrative costs in a time of budget-cutting, at the expense of mission) got enough people riled up that I believe that real change may finally be on the horizon.
Ann Fontaine wrote:
This is my understanding — the Executive Council did not get a budget with line items in it until the night before Council was supposed to vote on the budget. Up to that point all conversation was about priorities, abstractions, and rough assignments of numbers in broad categories.
Then after they did vote on a line item budget, the Church Center posted to the extranet a budget that took about about 40 percent of the 800 line items and replaced them with language saying that this line would be allocated in consultation with the executive team. (does anyone know who is on that team?)
Snook again responds, this time to the statement that, for now, the budget can’t be correct due to “Canons of the Church”:
I’m thinking they can’t issue a “corrected” budget for two reasons: no one really knows what the correct budget is (witness the confusion over how much the Formation budget was really supposed to be: $1 million? $1.9 million? some other number?). And, the “corrected” budget would not be balanced. Restoring the known errors would take it out of balance by millions of dollars. It is a judgment call to figure out what to cut to compensate for the restorations, and EC can’t make the judgment call at this late date. So they are kicking the can down the road to PB&F, which gets to do the dirty work.
Needless to say, this is all evidence of an extremely dysfunctional budget process. Very, very disheartening.
Tom Ferguson (aka: Crusty Old Dean) wrote an extended blog entry on the “Official Budget Statement”:
3) And the jewel in the crown: “Finally, the amount of $286,438 for Formation and Vocation is an error…the actual number was lost in the complex process of combining the 15% and 19% cases the Executive Council used to build the draft proposed budget. The budget was adopted and Executive Council adjourned before the error was discovered. Questions have been asked regarding what the ‘real’ number might have been. Council members…suggested something in the range of $1.9 million. Other knowledgeable persons suggested $1 million. PB&F will need to address this matter at General Convention. Restoring funds to Formation and Vocation will require taking funds from other places.”
This is utterly incomprehensible on at least three levels.
Level 1: Are they really, honestly, truly telling us they presented a budget with a variance of up to $1.7 million, seen by perhaps over fifty people (staff and elected representatives of this church like the Executive Council), many of whom openly questioned the size of this cut, and nobody seemed to know this was an error.
In fact, this cut was defended by those who cited a survey conducted which showed that Vocation and Formation was something identified which should be done at the diocesan or local level (Crusty Old Dean has disputed this whole concept in other posts).
I am just at a loss as to how this could have happened without some kind of massive system failure. Which leads to level two..
Level 2: This shows a problem with the budget system we have. Funds now have to be found because of this error from elsewhere in the budget? Because the Executive Council and the staff that put this budget together screwed up so royally, the onus is still on fixing the $286,000 figure that they mistakenly approved? Are we that beholden to a budgeting process that Vocation and Formation becomes the fatted calf of this story, the one that gets slaughtered as a result of decisions made by other people? Could we not take the $1.2 million surplus you “found” in Development and apply it here!
Level 3: Lack of accountability oozes through this entire process, as evidenced in some of the language here. Wasn’t clear if the spreadsheet “would correct” the error in addition. The real Vocations and Formation number “was lost.” The budget “was adopted.” These things didn’t just happen. The number didn’t lose itself. The column didn’t add itself wrong. The Council adopted a flawed and inaccurate budget. And somehow COD doubts that anyone will be held accountable for this at all. We will all be told mistakes were made, we could play the blame game and live in the past, or we could move forward. True, in a sense, but also words which can be used to paper over incompetence and dysfunction.
I have been saying ever since I watched the 2009 budget fiasco that the process for putting the DFMS budget together is broken. It is marked by lack of transparency, and lack of clarity in how it reflects our mission and budget priorities. It is undemocratic, since the final budget is presented to the floor of Convention with the only option to accept it or else.
It’s fair to say there is lots of confusion and frustration, whether one is part of Executive Council (see some of their responses) or not.
The Cafe’s Jim Naughton gets the final observation (before I leave this to new comments):
The budget process last triennium was worse than the budget process this time around. It might be worth figuring out why this happens. I don’t think it can be attributed to free floating structural issues. At some point, some specific people take or don’t take some specific actions. Possibly for the best of intentions. Possibly for reasons of which we are unaware. I think it would be useful for the church to have more information in this regard.