Agencies face mean fitness instructor

Listen to the fitness instructor: Limber up! Focus on your core muscles! Feel the fat burn off!

The so-called supercommittee couldn’t trim any fat from the government's budget, so the fitness instructor — a Ms. Sequestration — has taken over. She will force agencies to trim the fat and maybe some lean tissue, too, and she won't show any mercy.

To survive, agencies have to be limber in how they buy their products and services, and experts say they shouldn't get tied up in contracts that tie them down.

During a panel discussion in January, Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, said officials could bring more flexibility to contracting by forgoing fixed-price contracts in favor of paying companies for their time and materials.

But agencies must manage those contracts carefully. There are policy constraints on time-and-materials contracts, which are considered risky, and the Obama administration doesn't trust them.

Experts also said agencies could decrease the amount of revenue they guarantee companies on contracts and use the budget cuts as the basis for renegotiating deals.

The cuts are already forcing officials to reassess how they do business and what business they should be doing. An agency’s core mission will get priority, which means dropping projects that don't directly contribute to the mission.

“Procurements that can be put off will be put off," said John Cooney, a former Office of Management and Budget official and now a partner at Venable law firm.

Although fitness is good for everyone, a senior House Republican is seeking to exempt the Defense Department from the sequestration's weight-loss program. DOD’s budget cuts would total half of the $1.2 trillion demanded by the sequestration.

According to the Navy Times, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, hopes to prove that many people would be hurt — including defense contractors — if DOD is subject to the cuts. He plans to make his case during the committee’s hearings in February on the Obama administration’s forthcoming fiscal 2013 budget proposal.

DOD officials are already working on $485 billion in cuts for long-range defense plans. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the department’s new military strategy would go “out the window” if the sequestration were to kick in, according to a story in the Fort Leavenworth Lamp.

Civilian agencies might be able to duck the fitness regimen. But for that to happen, Congress and President Barack Obama would have to agree on a major piece of legislation before Jan. 3, 2013, which doesn't seem likely.

“In theory, a sequester could be nullified after it’s been passed — maybe days, weeks, a month or so [later] — and an alternative package could be put in place,” said Robert Keith, a former senior specialist at the Congressional Research Service. “I’m not advocating it. It would be messy, but it’s conceivable.”

However, we believe that Keith's ray of hope is too thin to count on. Get ready for jumping jacks and push-ups, military-style.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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