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.

About the Author

Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.

Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of, Schneider also helped launch the political site in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times,, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.

Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.

Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.

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Reader comments

Wed, May 22, 2013

Why not have all this human rights activist who gave all our prisoners right to do what ever they want to in prison, pay for there bill or live at there house. That would cut the cost for prisons and free up money for the DOD and other agencies. Just saying when the ones behind bars have more rights then the ones out being good citizens then brothers and sisters we have a problem. We all have someone close to our families or friends that have gotten in trouble but if they do not feel like they are paying for there crimes whats to prevent them from doing it again.

Fri, May 3, 2013 Contractor

I agree that the tough changes should be executed now due to the volitility of DOD 'industry', if you will. Although, the statement "Rather than simply cutting back on expensive management consultant contracts", implies that the sequestration is cutting contacts and or hours of contracted consultants. This may occure due to civilian/goverment personell cuts, but most of the contractors, contractually, can not be cut this fiscal year (FY). Contracts must be reinstated per the Period of Performace (POP), which mean we still have work this year, and if the POP goes past the end of the FY, we're in the clear for longer. Most contractors are safe for the time being.

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