Fear of blame could cause Congress to back down from sequestration

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If there's to be a resolution to the looming threat of sequestration, it'll stem from party caucus meetings among members of Congress centered on a discussion of "who's going to be blamed more," said Paul Carliner, a former Democratic Senate Appropriators Committee staffer. Carliner, now managing partner of Carliner Strategies, spoke Oct. 22 at a TechAmerica event in Washington, D.C.

"It'll come down into those meetings, when these things really get hashed out," he said. Once the discussion turns to which party would shoulder the most blame for automatic cuts of $109 billion to federal discretionary spending in fiscal 2013 set to kick in on Jan. 2 thanks to the Budget Control Act, "that begins to lead you on a path to being more flexible," Carliner said.

Sequestration will strip $55 billion of spending from defense accounts, $38 billion from non-defense discretionary and $16 billion from mandatory programs, noted David Taylor, a former Republican Senate Appropriations staffer.

Because sequestration isn't set to take effect until after a quarter of the federal fiscal year has already passed (federal fiscal years begin every Oct. 1), the 9.4 percent Budget Control Act reduction of defense spending will feel like a 12.5 percent cut, and the 8.2 percent BCA cut to non-defense discretionary will feel like a 10.9 percent cut, Taylor said.

When--or should--agencies deal with the reality of sequestration, furloughs of civilian employees could be a necessity, said Elizabeth Ferell, a Washington, D.C.-based partner of law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge.

They may also cancel noncritical programs--"and what's critical is in the eye of the beholder," Ferell said.

Contractors should expect more lowest price, technically acceptable evaluation criteria procurements since the best value trade-off process is already viewed as too expensive, she added.

In addition, the number of procurement protests will rise, she predicted. "People fight when money's tight," she said.

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