Predicted flavor of budget: 'Vanilla'

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"The big payoff"

The presidential election Nov. 7 will bring little change to the federal

budget environment, which is good news for government contractors, according

an industry expert on the federal budget.

A new administration probably will not impact what happens in federal

budgeting, spending or the size of the surplus, Stanley Collender, senior

vice president of Fleishman-Hillard Inc., said in his address to federal

information technology contractors Nov. 2 at the Government Electronics

and Information Technology Association 2000 Vision Conference in Arlington,

Va.

Whichever party ends up in the majority after the election, Congress

is expected to be the most evenly divided in recent history; there will

be little bipartisan cooperation; and there will be no consensus for at

least two years on what to do with the surplus, Collender said.

Without a sizable majority in Congress to get things done, there will

be a "vanilla-izing" of the next Congress, which likely will have an ever-shifting

coalition of members to make decisions, Collender said.

Under those conditions, there might be incremental changes, but there

will be no grand agenda to reform Social Security or the tax system, he

said. In particular, the much-publicized surplus probably will turn out

to be half the size estimated, he said.

"All this is nothing but good news for industry that does business in

government," he said.

Without a surplus to spend on sweeping changes promised in the campaigns,

the only thing left for Congress to do is boost the discretionary budget

that is appropriated to federal agencies, Collender said. Most of the money

probably will be added to agencies' appropriations on Capitol Hill rather

than in the president's annual request, he said.

"We are likely to see a renewed emphasis on appropriations — to make

it look like something's being done," Collender said, but he cautioned,

"As much additional money there is for some of these agencies to spend,

there will be that many more people trying to sell to government."

The government has little experience with a surplus, Collender said.

The existence of a deficit for so long has reduced the budget process to

a deficit-reduction process, he said.

Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement,

an organization for federal contractors, agreed with Collender that a vacuum

exists in terms anyone willing to lead a coherent budget process.

"The logical progression is that everyone's going to roll around with

their fingers in the blueberry pie for so long, there will be nothing left

and we'll be back to a deficit, and then we'll know what to do," Allen said.

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