The White House is telling Cabinet heads and other agency officials not to embellish on President Trump's proposed budget cuts beyond what was in a brief submission. The maneuver has some Democrats crying foul, though it is not unprecedented.
Until the full budget release in May, "all public comments of any sort should be limited to the information contained in the Budget Blueprint chapter for your agency," Budget Director Mick Mulvaney wrote in a memo first reported by the Associated Press. Department and agency heads should not make "commitments about specific programs" or give additional detail about cuts to programs that went unmentioned in last week's summary budget, Mulvaney said.
Some Democrats slammed the memo as a gag order, but the Trump administration was quick to point out that it is not the first to make such a request.
"The OMB memo is similar to the guidance offered in previous administrations in their first year, reflecting the truncated time to craft a budget," said OMB communications director John Czwartacki in an email, pointing to similar memos from 2001 and 2009. "Was it a gag order in 2009 when President Obama's OMB issued a similar memo?"
The Trump administration unveiled its 2018 budget blueprint, titled "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again," last week. The so-called "skinny budget" outlines the administration's vision for discretionary spending next year. It calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending and a decrease in spending on nearly every other domestic department.
"You had an America-first candidate, and you have an America-first budget," Mulvaney said ahead of the budget's release last week.
The budget, which many have panned as "dead on arrival" in Congress and most at least acknowledge will undergo significant changes, would be a major boon to defense stocks if enacted.
Its impact would be less clear for healthcare. For example, it includes a $5.8 billion cut to the National Institute of Health (NIH).
The 62-page document is light on detail, which could potentially explain the administration's push to keep further information under wraps. The Department of Justice recently provided details on the budget's plan to up bankruptcy fees, but given the current gag order, that appears to be an exception and not a rule.
"It is critically important that you not make commitments about specific programs if they are not expressly mentioned in the budget," Mulvaney wrote in the memo. "Similarly, you should not address account-level details. Comments of such specifics need to wait until the release of the full budget."
-- Updated with background on budget, previous administrations' guidance and OMB comment.