Budget

Budget deal passes, but appropriations work remains

capitol dome and bills

The Senate passed a budget bill in the wee hours of Oct. 30 to set spending levels for the government for two years and avert a possible default on the national debt. If the measure is followed by an appropriations package, Congress will have succeeded in staving off a government shutdown and potentially providing some long-sought certainty to agency IT budgets.

The bill, which passed the Senate on a 64-35 vote, now moves to the White House, and President Barack Obama said he would sign it as soon as it reaches his desk.

Along with funding the government through fiscal 2017, the bill would also raise the federal debt ceiling until March 2017 and provide an additional $80 billion for military and domestic programs.

"It locks in two years of funding and should help break the cycle of shutdowns and manufactured crises that have harmed our economy," Obama said.

Policy experts said the funding deal would give some surety to federal IT managers who have grown used to working with tighter, less predictable budgets while trying to take advantage of quickly advancing technology.

"Bringing some measure of fiscal certainty to the federal marketplace is good news for federal technology and IT projects," said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of the IT Alliance for Public Sector.

"It's a good thing for federal IT," longtime federal consultant Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners, told FCW. "It increases discretionary funding that could be used for important IT efforts, like cybersecurity and cloud. But we're not out of the woods yet."

Although the budget bill is settled, no money has actually been appropriated to agencies yet. That process will unfold over the coming weeks, Allen said, and hopefully be completed by Dec. 11, when agencies' current spending authority is set to expire.

Hodgkins was fairly optimistic about the appropriations process. "I don't think things will be delayed," he said "If there were big differences on where the money would land, they probably would have come up before the budget bill was approved. It should become almost perfunctory now."

Obama also commented on the next steps. "Congress should build on this by getting to work on spending bills that invest in America's priorities without getting sidetracked by ideological provisions that have no place in America's budget process," he said.

Other stakeholders expressed similarly tempered relief over the budget bill.

Lawmakers "should quickly pass appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2016 providing federal agencies with higher levels of funding as called for in the budget deal," National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon said in an Oct. 30 statement. "Congress must act quickly or else a shutdown would be the unwelcome outcome when current federal funding expires on Dec. 11."

The deal should provide "a measure of certainty" and needed stability through fiscal 2017, said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, in an Oct. 30 statement. But he also noted that although the bill raises the Budget Control Act caps for fiscal 2016 and 2017, it does not eliminate them.

"In fact, it extends them for four more years, to fiscal year 2025," Soloway said and predicted that the next administration and Congress would be forced to address the issue.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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