“Budget Deal” is Progress, but Not an Appropriation

tim larkins small pic. 67x84by Tim Larkins, Director, Market Intelligence

As you may have heard, John Boehner is trying to push a fiscal agreement through Congress before his tenure as Speaker of the House is over.

While this is progress, it’s important to remember that this “budget deal” is not an appropriation – meaning it does not fund agencies in FY16.  The end result here would be similar to what we experienced in 2013 with the BBA (Bipartisan Budget Act) in that it will raise the debt ceiling through March of 2017 and it will lift spending caps (thereby avoiding sequestration) by roughly $50 billion in FY16 , $30 billion in FY17, and it will allow for an additional $32 billion in OCO (overseas contingency operations) funding between FY16 and FY17.  On a side note – the increase in allowance could be offset by cuts to Medicare, changes to the crop insurance program, and offsetting oil sales from the Petroleum Reserve, among other things.

But in order for this to have an impact, we still would need an appropriations package from Congress to fund the agencies.  If this deal passes (and assuming the President gets his wish in splitting the $50 billion this year equitably between DOD and Civilian agencies) it will be easier for lawmakers to work together to create an appropriations package (most likely in the form of an omnibus) by the time the continuing resolution (CR) expires in December. Read more of this post

FY16 Budget Forecast

US Flag, Capitol Building and MoneyThe Senate and the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) today, which the President can sign by midnight to fund government at FY15 levels through December 11.  What happens after the December 11 deadline is up in the air, but we’ll either see more CRs for the rest of the year, or an omnibus (like what we had in FY15).

First, let’s cover some budget scenarios:

  • Full Budget
    12 appropriations bills passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President by October 1 appropriating funds to each of the government agencies. These appropriations bills combine for over 20,000 pages of text and provide significant clarity from Congress on how money should be spentThis hasn’t happened since 2008.
  • Omnibus
     Twelve appropriations bills are consolidated into 1.  Agencies do receive new funding levels for the year and new programs can start, but the bill is significantly shorter (roughly 2,000 pages, compared to the 20,000 pages of the full budget) and lacks the direction from Congress on how the money should be spent.  FY15 ended on an omnibus.
  • CROmnibus
    A combination of a CR and an omnibus – funding some agencies at new levels for the fiscal year, while other agencies are dependent upon prior year spending levels.
  • Continuing Resolution (CR)
    Appropriations bills were not passed and new budget levels cannot be agreed upon in Congress.  A CR is a stopgap measure allowing the government to remain open and funded, but at the prior year’s spending levels, and no new programs can be started.
  • Shutdown
    Congress can’t agree on any aspect of funding, and all non-essential governmental functions are suspended until a budget can be reached.

Read more of this post

The Good News and Bad News about the Government Shutdown

tim larkins small pic. 67x84by Tim Larkins, Senior Manager, Market Intelligence

The bad news:  The shutdown cut about 0.6% off forecasted 4th quarter GDP growth. An estimated 100,000 jobs were lost across the country (it is unclear how many of those will be recovered), and the shutdown pushed consumer confidence to its lowest point in 8 months.

The good news:  Government spending will continue. The main hit was felt by services contractors, because they can never recoup lost billable hours from those 3 weeks. However, the IT products that agencies needed a month ago will still be needed in a month, so they’ll still be purchased. Albeit forecasts are off… but at the end of the day IT product companies will still realize the revenue.

The most recent legislation suspended the debt ceiling until February 7, and the Continuing Resolution (CR) funds government discretionary budgets at an annualized level of $986 billion until January 15. There is no reason to believe that a budget deal will be reached, so we can expect further last minute CRs to occur throughout the year. Hopefully we’ll see an omnibus that will at least provide appropriations for certain agencies – so that those agencies will no longer have to reference FY12 or FY13 budget numbers and agencies can begin new programs.

But regardless of whether we see more CRs or an omnibus, you can expect agencies to remain hesitant to make large purchases (as they were last year). The $986 billion is $19 billion above the post sequestration Budget Control Act (BCA) caps – so unless Congress amends the BCA, we’ll be going through another round of sequestration again in FY14. I expect we’ll see a flurry of RFP activity in March/April again as agencies will want to hold on to funds and not obligate them until August/September (they know the contracting process takes 5-6 months).

FY14 Exhibit 53s Now Available

tim larkins small pic. 67x84by Tim Larkins, Senior Manager, Market Intelligence

As we all know, the President’s FY14 budget request of $3.77 trillion was released last week, and thankfully, the targeted spending cuts proposed in this budget would essentially replace the blunt, across the board cuts that would have been caused by sequestration. A small portion of the budget document addressed IT (pages 349-358); with the IT request coming in at $82 billion, up slightly from FY12 spending levels of $80 billion.

The budget request that specifically addresses spending on IT programs (the Exhibit 53) was released yesterday. While the request is 1% above FY13 levels, there are some significant changes. HUD will receive a 36% cut, USAID will receive a 24% cut, National Archives will receive a 13% cut, GSA will receive a 12% cut, and SSA will receive a 6% cut. The largest increase in IT funds will go to the VA with a 19% increase, DHS and EPA will receive a 7% increase, and DOS will receive a 4% increase. The remaining agencies’ IT programs will be largely unchanged.

The Exhibit 53 is a budget request, and as such, can only be considered a guideline for IT spending for the year; but the fact that we are seeing a year-over-year increase in the IT request is outstanding news for the product community. This increase in budget requests, plus the possible elimination of blunt, across the board sequestration cuts, and the potential of an omnibus budget for FY14 could spell a very prosperous year for technology companies after a year full of gloom and doom in 2013.


So What Happened with the Fiscal Cliff?

tim larkins small pic. 67x84by Tim Larkins, Senior Manager, Market Intelligence

The mix of expired tax breaks and scheduled budget reductions that came to be known as the Fiscal Cliff has – for a moment – been dodged through a just-past-deadline deal.  Congress has been negotiating over $4 trillion in deficit reductions over the next 10 years; and eventually settled with a reduction of $600 billion over that same time period instead.  You may not be clear as to how the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 will play out, so the following is a guide to help you understand:

  • Everyone will pay 5% more in estate taxes on amounts over $5 million
  • Everyone will pay 2% more for Social Security tax (up to $113,700 in income) because the Obama payroll tax break will expire
  • Anyone making under $400,000 (or couples making under $450,000) will see the Bush era tax cuts as permanent fixtures
  • Anyone making over $400,000 (or couples making over $450,000) will see marginal income taxes rise 4.6% because the Bush era tax cuts expire for them
  • Anyone making over $400,000 (or couples making over $450,000) will also see capital gains and dividend taxes increase 5%
  • Anyone making over $250,000 (or couples making over $300,000) will have exemptions and itemized deductions capped
  • Anyone making over $200,000 (or couples making over $250,000) will have investment income tax rates increase 3.8% due to the Affordable Care Act
  • Entitlement programs saw no cuts
  • The required $1.2 trillion in spending reductions over the next 9 years that was scheduled to begin on January 2, 2013 – known as sequestration – has been postponed until March (and if you reference the 2013 DOD Budget Briefing, you’ll note that immixGroup predicted this back in October)

Regardless of how you fared individually from the tax changes, kicking the budget can down the road unfortunately does nothing for federal CIOs, CTOs, and Program Managers except add to their anxiety.  As we predicted, DOD and Civilian agencies went on a spending spree the last months of FY12 and the first months of FY13 in order to obligate as many funds as possible (in hopes of shrinking the available pool of money that sequestration can draw from).  But Congress has now thrust them into a period of uncertainty, and as we all know from prior Federal sales experience – uncertainty leads to inaction.  To make matters worse, the Federal Government is currently funded under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that ends in March.  This means that agencies will see no new projects started in FY13, and most major technology initiatives will enjoy limited funding and progress.

So what does it all mean to you?  Well the good news is that delaying huge budget reductions and avoiding large tax hikes will most likely stop another recession from occurring this year.  However, the economy as a whole will probably continue with only sluggish growth.  For those in the IT industry, we still aren’t entirely sure how sequestration is going to play out.  I would suggest planning for the worst case scenario; meaning expect DOD programs to have roughly 9% less procurement funds than in FY12 (8% less on the Civilian side), and expect operations and maintenance dollars to fluctuate depending on the program’s importance and priority to the agency.

In a perfect world, come the end of March we would have an Omnibus that funds the government for the remainder of FY13, and we would have guidance on how exactly sequestration will play out.  The more likely scenario is that Congress will give us another CR (or a series of them) to keep the government operating for the rest of the year at FY12 levels, and we will be forced to deal with piecemeal legislation addressing budget cuts throughout FY13 and beyond.  For the average sales person, this means that the plans and approach you developed for November and December will largely remain unchanged through March and April.  So while Congress may have narrowly avoided the Fiscal Cliff, we are still very much plagued by the problems that have confronted us for years.


Government Use of Mobile Technology

tim larkins small pic. 67x84by Tim Larkins, Senior Manager, Market Intelligence

This week the Digital Services Advisory Group (DSAG) released a report, Government Use of Mobile Technology, in collaboration with the Federal CIO Council.  The report identified successes and setbacks in the implementation of Steve Van Roekel’s Digital Government Strategy (DGS), which endorses government adoption of mobile technologies.  DGS officially highlighted mobility as a necessary platform that government and industry must deliver to.  To that end, the government has had open discussions with industry about development of a Mobile strategy since May of 2012.

In its report, the DSAG identified a number of gaps that industry and the government face in embracing mobile technologies; with the primary concerns related to security and infrastructure.  Specifically, the report outlined a lack in:

  • User authentication
  • Data encryption
  • Application security
  • Compatibility and access to legacy applications from mobile platforms
  • Cross platform infrastructures that satisfy security requirements

The report went on to describe other challenges, including:

  • Immaturity of the product space
  • Inability of agencies to react to rapid changes in mobile device management solutions and mobile application stores
  • Unavailability of secure continuous network connections to allow for delivery of web applications and virtualized desktops
  • Lack of legal, privacy, and financial policies
  • Lack of reimbursement policies for government employees’ use of mobile devices
  • Lack of a life cycle cost benefit analysis to justify investment in mobile technologies

Mobility is not just an emerging technology– it is a necessity; and we expect spending on mobile solutions to ramp up over the next several years.  However, before mobile technologies can be fully embraced, helping our customers address these challenges must be our top priority.


Sales Opportunities within MHS

tim larkins small pic. 67x84by Tim Larkins, Senior Manager, Market Intelligence

The Military Health System (MHS) provides healthcare services to nearly 10 million beneficiaries including active and retired military personnel and their dependents. Providing care from the battlefield to hospitals to domestic clinics is no easy feat.  To support this, the agency is increasingly relying on IT to improve healthcare delivery to its beneficiaries.

The total FY13 Unified Healthcare budget request is down 16% from last year to $48.7 billion. The agency’s IT budget is also slightly down (6%) from prior year levels to $1.87 billion.  Should sequestration occur, veterans’ healthcare will be safe as will basic and retirement pay for DoD personnel, and funding for housing.  TRICARE will not be exempt in sequestration and thus faces significant cuts that will most likely lead to a reduction in personnel.

From an IT perspective, MHS’ CIO will focus on improving infrastructure operations and electronic health records. The agency’s strategic IT plans include:

  • Architecture & Processes – Refine requirements management process to improve product quality and time to market
  •  Electronic Health Records  – Introduce products that enable providers to efficiently enter and retrieve information
  • Governance – Design a new IT governance structure and portfolio management that allow integrated capabilities and promotes better decision making
  • Enterprise Intelligence- Enhance intelligence through enterprise tools and services to make information visible, accessible, understandable, and trustable
  • Personal Health Agenda – Implement a comprehensive MHS wide patient portal and personal health record
  • IT Interoperability – Establish interoperability with private sector healthcare providers and organizations and other business partners
  • Maximize Portfolio Value
  • Innovative Technologies – Identify, research, develop, test, and evaluate new solutions to benefit the MHS enterprise and beneficiaries
  • Human Capital Management
  • Distributed Development

If you want to learn more about MHS’ FY13 budget request and the sales opportunities it offers, take a moment to watch this brief video taken from a recent market intelligence briefing I conducted.



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