New fiscal year off to a slow start

Buylines | Policies, strategies and trends to watch

Steve Charles

October marks the start of the federal fiscal
year, and as in every year since 1994,
Congress and the president have failed to
give agencies their annual spending authority
on time, opting instead to dole it out
piecemeal. This time they are doing so in the form of a
45-day continuing resolution that expires Nov. 16.

Come to think of it, this
year is shaping up like a mirror
image of 1995, the year in
which the Republican-controlled
Congress played chicken
with a Democratic president.
Back then, Congress
passed a continuing resolution
that expired in mid-
November, and President
Clinton swore ? in hopes of
forcing Congress to pass the
appropriations bills ? that he
would not sign a second. Most
people agree that Congress'
failure to pass those bills, thus shutting
down the government, hurt the
Republicans in the 1996 election.
This time the shoe is on the other
foot politically, and it is anyone's
guess how it will all play out.

Any management guru will tell you
that the first priority when running a
large organization is completing the
annual plan and budget on time. Yet
one of the largest operations in the
world has violated this basic business
concept annually for more than a
decade. This bad habit is institutionalized
to the point that must-pass
appropriations bills attract so many
politically motivated amendments
that instead of must-pass they
become must-punt. This year, the
process has devolved ? as it did in
1995 ? into a punting game up and
down Pennsylvania Avenue.

I can only imagine how frustrating
this must be for government managers.
The public holds them
accountable for mission results via a
535-member board of directors ?
435 in the House, 100 in the Senate
? who, because they can't restrain
themselves during the democratic
budget-making process, set the worst
possible example for agency managers.
They ignore the considerable
effort expended to comply with all the
capital planning and investment control
activities ? already done at this
point for 2009 ? while arbitrarily
forcing them to live according to the
prior year's plan.

Yet it does no good for a government
employee ? whether politically
appointed or career civil servant ? to
complain, lest the fiscal-law accounting
police descend to dissect suspicious-
looking transactions. Yes,
amazingly, at the operational levels,
this all boils down to accounting.

I teach sellers of technology to
address in the following order three
chains of command present in all
transactions of significant size: the
program people, who have the
requirements and own the mission
and the budget, and the finance people,
who must sign off through the
comptroller's chain of command
before the third group, the contracting
officers with the actual spending
authority, can start the procurement.
All three groups must be satisfied for
a deal to get done.

This means that cross-walking and
mapping are the order of the day for
government customers as they try to
address mission realities while constrained
by a short ? sometimes outof-
date ? fiscal leash.

Of course, this is exactly the kind of
thing those of us in business development
and sales are called on to do as
we serve our government customers
and the interests of our companies.
It's just that now, with oversight focus
on both fiscal law and procurement
law enforcement, there are a host of
process requirements to keep in mind
as we seek to address the concerns of
the various stakeholders who are part
of any large opportunity and, at the
same time, try to realistically predict
the outcome for our company's financial
prognosticators.

One thing is sure: This first quarter
will be slow, and the slow pace will
probably extend, as it did last year,
into January and February. Last year,
we didn't get the final omnibus continuing
resolution until Feb. 15,
which was 10 days after the president's
2008 budget was submitted to
Congress.

Steve Charles is co-founder of immixGroup
Inc., a consulting firm. E-mail him at
steve_charles@immixgroup.com.

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