Sequester's silver lining
Sequestration has redefined 'normal,' but agency leaders are beginning to recognize new kinds of opportunities in it. (Stock image)
"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."
That was Rahm Emanuel's view after the 2008 elections, when President-elect Barack Obama and his team grappled with an economy that was approaching meltdown. Emanuel, the former congressman who become Obama's chief of staff and is now mayor of Chicago, argued that the urgent economic problems demanded bold action. "This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before."
Emanuel was talking about the broader economy, not federal budgets and IT programs, but we can easily apply his argument to the challenges agencies face today. Federal executives have had no choice but to postpone important decisions because Congress and the president have repeatedly pushed off their duties — denying agencies the budget information and authority they need to move forward.
Now, however, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. Not a return to standard appropriations and stable or growing budget lines — the sequester has redefined "normal" for the foreseeable future — but a different sort of opportunity has arisen. Agency leaders need to be ready to use the cuts and culture of austerity as an opportunity to make the tough changes that have been avoided for years.
The continuing resolution that funds the rest of fiscal 2013 kept most of the sequester's reductions in place, and budget experts agree that funding is not likely to grow in the immediate future. But although the dollar limits will remain, the anti-strategic, across-the-board requirements of sequestration will not. And for leaders willing to push for hard choices, that (relative) flexibility provides a rare opportunity.
FCW's recent cover story touches on one aspect of this challenge: Rather than simply cutting back on expensive management consultant contracts, agencies should work with those experts to identify bigger, better savings for the long term. There are already signs that executives are pushing to "cut smarter" — see the Defense Department's rush to take advantage of what little flexibility the continuing resolution offered the Pentagon.
After suffering through the budget crisis of recent years, it would be a shame to let it go to waste.
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW. Connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.