Senior execs ponder sequestration: ‘Is this the new normal?’

What do you get when you put a group of Senior Executive Service members in a room together? A lot of straight talk about managing the short-term and long-term ...

Imagine putting the best and the brightest senior executives in a room and asking them to share their thoughts on the biggest problem facing the SES today, namely sequestration.

That’s exactly what the Senior Executives Association did earlier this year. The end result is a new report, “Reflections of Presidential Distinguished Rank Executives: The New Normal”.

The monograph, which came out of an April 24 meeting with previous award winners, examines the challenges and experiences senior executives have faced in trying to deal with the impact of sequestration and the budget process.

“It wasn’t intended to be a complex analysis,” SEA President Carol Bonosaro told Your Turn with Mike Causey Wednesday. “It was intended to be, ‘What’s the real impact of managing through this sequestration and this budget process?’ I use the term ‘budget process’ loosely. How does it really play out? What does it really mean? And it doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated. The conclusions aren’t necessary rocket science. But they’re real and they’re important, and I think they need to be said and heard.”

Carol Bonosaro, president, Senior Executives Association

After pondering a host of questions, the SES members came up with a question of their own: Is this the new normal?

“Maybe this is the way it’s going to be from now on, with very little certainty at all and having to constantly make adjustments and worry about at what point are we cutting too deep to the bone,” Bonosaro said. “I think that one of the interesting comments was by someone who said, ‘Look, the problem is that we’re pretty good at what we do and we’ll be able to figure it out, keep the agency’s mission going. And then, Congress is going to look and say, “Well, see, I told you there was fat and there’s probably more where that came from.”‘ At some point, it’s going to get too deep.”

Bonosaro said the comment that intrigued her the most came from someone who said that senior executives are still being encouraged to carry out their important missions, but they have to do so without the ability to hire, fire or train anyone, travel anywhere or spend any money, award any contracts or issue any reports.

“One person said the new normal that I grew up with as a public servant is gone,” she said.

At the core of the problem, according to Bonosaro, is Congress’ inability to pass appropriations bills and, instead, rely on continuing resolutions to keep the government going.

“While you never have real certainty in government, at least you felt that, ‘OK, I know what I’ve got for the year. I can plot that out. I can build my program around that and know what I’m doing,'” she said.

Another commenter in the report said he wished he could put a price tag on how much it cost the government to redo the budget over and over again.

In spite of the tough times they face, Bonosaro said senior executives will continue to do the best that they can.

“They’re going to really try and do everything they can to keep these programs going, the missions going,” Bonosaro said. “But at some point, where do you reach the tipping point?”

One of the conclusions of the monograph is that people have only begun to see the short-term impact of sequestration. It’s long-term effects are still to come.

“You’re putting off infrastructure,” Bonosaro said. “You’re not training people. You may not be hiring the people they need, and eventually, where’s that going to put us? Eventually these people are going to retire. Are we building the next generation here? Who’s going to be capable of dealing with challenges like this?”


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