Sequestration. It’s Here, So Now What?
March 1, 2013 Leave a comment
Like so many of our clients and partners, I’m scanning the news almost hourly to see what will happen with sequestration. As I’ve advised earlier, it’s important to filter out the politics ⎯ admittedly that are getting more heated and unreal-sounding ⎯ from the underlying reality.
That reality centers on two points worth repeating.
First, the math. For the civilian side of the government, cuts of $42.5 billion represent 6 percent or so of overall spending, but the effect is magnified by the fact that the fiscal year is nearly half over. The cuts aren’t horrible, but they are real. On the Defense side, it’s more like 9 percent, and this on top of budget limitations worth hundreds of billions over 10 years agreed to last year.
Remember, Sequestration is a “hold-back” of a specified percentage on all accounts of a similar type. For instance, the hold-back percentage on Discretionary accounts is higher than Mandatory accounts, and some accounts are exempt. But all “sequesterable” accounts of the same type have the same hold-back percentage applied, so an agency can’t completely cut a program, rather, all programs, theoretically, are subject to equal pain and suffering. The Sequester Order expected March 1 should include all these details.
This requires a careful, tactical approach by your sales teams to focus on the real opportunities, analyzing each by understanding which budget line item is potentially funding each individual opportunity. February 27 guidance to agencies from Comptroller’s office (M-13-05) emphasizes use of furloughs, hiring freezes, travel bans and so on to meet the hold-back percentages on sequesterable accounts without damaging mission performance. The memo does not mention freezing planned expenditures on technology purchases.
So opportunities to continually improve government performance and cybersecurity are still out there. Understandably, program managers are being very careful about allocating funds until there is more certainty that the fund-certifying official can sign off on the disbursement–all of which must happen before Contracts can work on the procurement.
Second, go back and review those areas most likely to keep going during the sequester. These are spelled out in guidance from the Congressional Research Service issued in January. It’s called Budget Sequestration and Selected Exemptions and Special Rules. Note that word: exemptions.
Among the areas the White House has the discretion to exempt:
- Military payroll accounts for uniformed members, which of course pulls along all of the support products and services related to troops.
- Veterans medical benefits, which also pull through supplies and services.
These two have already been “rescued” by the administration. Other possible exemptions that relate to the sales of products and services:
- Unobligated balances carried over from prior years from nondefense programs.
- A dozen direct benefits programs. Normally the administrative expenses related to these programs would be subject to sequester. But here’s a crucial point. CRS reports that OMB has decided that discretionary administrative expenses for exempt programs would not be sequestered. The reasoning is convoluted, but that exemption from the sequester could be your ticket to continued sales.
Bottom line? It’s no longer enough to ask whether the customer has money. Now we need to get into the details at the budget line item level and find out how sequestration applies to that account. This is a big job. There are many thousands of accounts.
And don’t forget, there’s a continuing resolution behind the sequester. It expires March 27. So far no plan has emerged from Congress on how to avoid a government shutdown. In their caution, your customers are thinking about how to avoid stumbling into an Antideficiency Act violation. Will the CR simply be extended, or will Congress us it kill some programs and plus-up others? Anything could happen as Congress and the President wrangle over finalizing the way the amounts cut by the sequester actually happen over the longer term.