When the Yarn Ball Unravels, Stick to the Knitting

Photo of Steve Charlesby Steve Charles, Co-founder and Executive Vice President

New evidence that the orderly budget process is in need of some serious tending came in the form of news that the administration will be late with its 2014 budget request. Here it is just hours before Christmas, and agency budget and program managers still don’t have their passback guidance from the Office of Management and Budget – and the 2014 request is due on the Hill, by law, the first Monday in February.

As Federal News Radio reported, several departmental CIOs were scratching their heads upon learning the White House was holding off on the passbacks. Officials are waiting until they have a clearer picture of how the fiscal debate will finally resolve, or if there will be a sequester the first week of January. That would change the base budget and therefore what a reasonable next-year request would look like.

So it’s not as if the White House is neglecting its duties. It’s basically bowing to reality.

Here’s what’s supposed to happen:

  1. Agency wish lists to go OMB in May of 2012, for the 2014 fiscal year.
  2. OMB details people to study and massage, and edited budgets are passed back to agencies in November.
  3. The president’s final request version goes to Congress in February 2013.
  4. Congress has between then and September 30, 2013 to debate and finish its appropriations work, which the president must sign.
  5. Fiscal 2014 budget goes into effect October 1, 2013.

Technology sellers with good agency relationships can sometimes get an early peak at selected passback numbers as they eagerly await the official release of the 2014 budget. Perhaps of equal value are the analytical perspectives essays on the budgets, which detail the approaches and strategies that underlie the numbers.

But the actual process has been steadily drifting away from the model schedule thanks to politics. This year, with the sequester debate the and six-month continuing resolution, the budget process has gotten so far out of phase even the normal, executive branch administrative processes seem slightly futile. Trouble is, the later the appropriation, the more compressed the acquisition planning and sales development cycle before September 30.

Rather than wring their hands in despair, though, technology manufacturers should look at this oddball set of circumstances as a chance to connect with customers in a different way. I’ve said it before: sequester or not, agreement or not, the federal government will still, somehow, spend north of $70 billion on IT over the next 12 months.

Take seriously the fact that they have to do market research and articulate options before buying anything over $150,000.  Show them what is cooking in your development labs. Demonstrate new functionality and capabilities your engineers are adding. Remind them how to buy via standing contract vehicles you have presence on. Ask them for their blue-sky thinking about what projects they would like to see, and what they expect to survive into the 2013 appropriation and the 2014 request. Show them how your products and services can lower their costs. Make sure they know how to write requirements that include you.

Yes, the budget and appropriations process has become distorted. That just makes it all the more important to redouble sales and business development efforts. As is true in the commercial sphere, companies that do the most diligent spadework in downtimes tend to gain the most market share and profits when the upturn comes.

About Steve Charles
Passionate about technology and helping our clients help the government with the latest. I try to educate people on all the government's checks and balances that really seem likes hoops and hurdles so buyers and sellers can get to a meeting of the minds much more quickly without violating any rules.

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