Are we seriously talking about shutdowns again?
It might not feel that way for cash-strapped agencies, but the past two years have been relatively stable on the budget front. As we move toward Oct. 1 and fiscal 2016, however, that’s about to change.
Come Sept. 30, the deal struck in December 2013 to lift the Budget Control Act caps expires -- which means sequestration is back. Congressional Republicans have been moving appropriations bills that adhere to those spending limits, while Democratic legislators and the White House are asserting that the resulting cuts are non-starters.
And although we have two full calendar months until fiscal 2015 funding expires, there are far fewer legislative days available for Congress to hash out a funding deal. Longtime budget analyst Stan Collender, who now pegs the likelihood of a shutdown at 60 percent, noted that there are fewer than a dozen real workdays for Congress between now and Oct. 1 -- and many of them are already promised to non-appropriations issues.
In theory, a budget deal is still possible, but the realistic best-case scenario is yet another continuing resolution to extend funding into December, with Congress returning for a special session to work out fiscal 2016 funding then. And if one side miscalculates -- or if even a handful of legislators dig in their heels -- then we may once again see systems powering down and federal workers staying home to start the fiscal year.
Technology, of course, is not a sticking point in the budget debate, but the federal IT community will feel the fallout nonetheless. Even if a continuing resolution is passed without drama, we’re still looking at another autumn without the budget clarity needed to plan and properly manage programs.
The relative stability of fiscal 2015 helped federal IT get out of its defensive crouch. So it’s truly unfortunate that, as Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) recently put it, “the fall is shaping up to be the most predictable -- and, really, avoidable -- budget crisis in memory.”
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 NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com 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, WashingtonPost.com, 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.