Agencies Respond to Budget Impact Template for ‘BidenBucks’

Agencies Respond to Budget Impact Template for 'BidenBucks'

FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL—The White House and its Office of Management and Budget instructed federal agencies to use a “template” for determining the cost of implementing President Joe Biden’s executive order to encourage voter participation, according to government emails obtained by The Daily Signal.

Critics use the term “Bidenbucks” to refer to the president’s controversial order from 2021, which directs federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get involved in elections. 

Several members of Congress contend that Biden’s order on turning out the vote for elections could violate the Antideficiency Act, a law that has three parts. It prohibits federal employees from obligating tax dollars not authorized by Congress, prohibits officials from not spending money as appropriated by Congress, and prohibits agencies from accepting voluntary service from individuals.

Biden’s controversial Executive Order 14019 requires federal agencies to participate in voter registration activities and help third-party organizations perform those activities on agency premises. 

Potentially, this could involve spending government funds, contracting with third parties for the payment of those funds, or accepting voluntary services by these “approved” third-party organizations such as Demos. 

Biden’s order appears to violate at least two provisions of the Antidefieicncy Act, said Stewart Whitson, senior director of federal affairs at the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative watchdog group, told The Daily Signal

But, Whitson added, to determine whether the Biden administration is violating that law, it’s necessary to know where the money is coming from, where it’s going, and what it’s being used for. 

Existing pots of money, for example, could be distributed by the Department of Agriculture to state agencies to help carry out voter registration activities, he suggested. 

“Even if the Biden administration were to claim that no public funds are spent to carry out EO 14019—a dubious and laughable claim—this effort would still violate the Antideficiency Act because it would mean federal agencies were accepting voluntary services from these third-party organizations to help carry out EO 14019, who also happen to be politically aligned with the current administration,” Whitson said.

Neither the Agriculture Department nor the Office of Management and Budget responded to The Daily Signal’s request for comment for this report. 

OMB “created a template for budget requests for the Voting EO [executive order] within their equity template in case any funding is needed for implementation,” says a Sept. 23, 2021, email among Department of Agriculture officials.

Biden’s executive order also directed agencies to team with private organizations to boost voting. Chief among those groups is the liberal think tank Demos, which drafted the executive action before Biden took office on Jan. 20, 2021. 

Akhil Rajan, then an assistant to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak, sent the September 2021 email message about the OMB’s template to USDA senior adviser Kumar Chandran, now the department’s acting undersecretary. Rajan is now a senior policy adviser to the White House’s deputy chief of staff. 

Rajan’s email to Chandran noted, “Contact K. Sabeel Rahman,” apparently meaning he was the one to contact with any questions. 

By that fall, Rahman, who was president of Demos when the liberal think tank drafted the executive order on voting, had joined the Biden administration’s OMB as part of its Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. (Rahman is now a professor at Cornell Law School.) 

The Daily Signal obtained 73 pages of emails from the Department of Agriculture through a request for public records  under the Freedom of Information Act. 

The documents were USDA’s second interim response to a request from The Daily Signal regarding Biden’s executive order on encouraging voter registration and voting. Some pages are heavily redacted.

The documents also prominently mention meetings and guidance from Demos, which is based in New York. The left-wing think tank drafted Biden’s executive order to agencies about voter registration in December 2020, the month after Biden defeated Donald Trump before he took office.

Although describing it as “minimal,” USDA acknowledges some budgetary impact from Biden’s order. Any amount, however, could mean obligating tax dollars without congressional authorization, in violation of the Antideficiency Act. 

In an email dated Sept. 21, 2021, Anne DeCesaro, chief of staff for the USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, wrote to Chandran about several issues, including “assessment of budgetary impact.”

“For all actions, we expect minimal budgetary impact as providing memos and letters and regular interactions with states are part of our normal business practices,” DeCesaro wrote. 

In that same email, DeCesaro explained to Chandran how other agencies within USDA could participate: The National School Lunch Program could promote voter registration in high schools, for example, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, could register its beneficiaries to vote. 

Ten days earlier, on Sept. 10, 2021, Chandran emailed several senior USDA staff about Biden’s executive order on increasing voter participation. 

“Thank you for your past work to complete our interim strategic plan for the voting rights executive order,” Chandran wrote in the email. “We are now being asked to submit a final strategic plan, based on what we provided in our interim plan.” 

He later added: “The WH [White House] team leading this effort has put together a template for the final strategic plan. This template largely follows the same format as that for the interim [plan], except it also includes instructions for how to flesh out each proposed action.” 

The second interim response from the USDA to The Daily Signal’s FOIA requests didn’t include the department’s strategic plan or the template provided by the White House or its Office of Management and Budget. 

An email dated Aug. 3, 2021, refers to a meeting between USDA officials and Demos executives to discuss Biden’s order on voting. 

The Agriculture Department and Demos communicated again about the president’s executive order in November 2021. 

“We’d love to reconnect soon to learn about your plans and see how Demos and the ACLU [the American Civil Liberties Union] may be able to support you in their continued development and implementation,” Demos senior policy analyst Lauren Williamson wrote Nov. 5 to senior USDA officials. 

“When we met last, we talked about wanting to explore additional programs in more detail to ensure maximal impact of the EO for the communities the USDA serves and we’re eager to continue that conversation,” Williamson said. 

Four days later, Rajan, assistant to the secretary of agriculture,  wrote to Chandan, saying: “[D]emos has been extremely helpful in thinking about ways to expand opportunities for voting, and the coalition they assembled for our last call was rich in the types of groups that have assembled rigorously-tested best practices. So from that perspective it may be helpful to hear from them but understand that REDACTED.”

Because USDA redacted Rajan’s next words, it is impossible to know what Vilsak’s assistant wanted Chandran to understand.

Original source

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.