Happy New Year … Just Wait Until March

Published: January 03, 2013

BudgetCONGRESSOMBPolicy and LegislationSequestration

The beginning of a new year is usually filled with resolutions to do brand new things or do old things better than in the past. We are driven by a desire and hope for a better future as the new year commences. At the risk of sounding a bit flippant, maybe we should start 2013 by simply saying “lay low for the first couple of months, get your things in order, and rest up because nothing much may happen until then anyway.”

What I am speaking about is what now appears to be the convergence of several federal budgetary events that have been or will be will be pushed – somewhat independently of each other – to the month of March. This is creating a veritable “wait and see” delay in the current 2013 fiscal year that will ripple into the next 2014 budget appropriations cycle and beyond. It is unclear how much, if any, consideration or planning is to account for this calendar coalescence, but there seems to have been an affinity for March in the minds of Congress and the White House alike. Specifically, the following budget events will come to a head in March: 
  • Expiration of the Current FY 2013 Continuing Resolution – The House passed seven of the 12 FY 2013 appropriations bills before the beginning of the fiscal year, but the Senate passed none by the full chamber. Instead, like they have done nearly every fiscal year for the last decade or more, they passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government until they can work out their differences across chambers and with the White House. While these CRs have varied in frequency and duration, the current one funds federal agencies for nearly half of the current fiscal year – through March 27.

  • Budget Sequestration Threat (again) – The much-hyped threat of federal budgets being subject to automatic across-the-board reductions as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA, a.k.a “debt ceiling deal”) was scheduled to be triggered this week, unless Congress took legislative action, which is what they did.  The latest “fiscal cliff” legislation pushes the trigger off to March 1.

  • Expected Delay in the FY 2014 Budget – Federal law requires the President to submit their next fiscal year budget request to Congress on the first Monday in February, which would be February 4th this year for the fiscal 2014 request. Slight delays are not all that unusual, however, and last year the budget was delayed a week. In a recent article, the Federal Times reported that sources within the government expect the FY 2014 budget to be delayed even longer this year – into March! In fact, the budget “passbacks” that agencies usually receive from OMB in November have also been delayed, so agencies do not have a firm, final sense of what OMB has approved for their budget requests.
So come March, we will see things come to a head as the House, Senate and the White House are faced with coming to terms with federal budgets for the remainder of FY 2013 and plans for FY 2014 and beyond. As if having these three elements come together is not enough, it appears that they will come on the heels of the next round of the debt ceiling debates, which is impending in February.
Meanwhile, federal agencies and their supporting contractors try to plan, patch, and perform their defined missions while the budget dust is swept, stirred and hopefully settled. Until then, it is difficult to move forward with much of anything.