Looking ahead to the no-surprise, likely-late 2025 federal spending bills

It is budget season on Capitol Hill and agency leaders are busy defending their 2025 spending plans in front of the appropriations committees.

It is budget season on Capitol Hill and agency leaders are busy defending their 2025 spending plans in front of the appropriations committees. And it’s possible the House could finish its appropriations bills this summer. But it’s still very unlikely we’ll have a full budget passed before the end of the fiscal year. For more on where things stand, Federal News Network’s Deputy Editor Jared Serbu spoke with longtime budget watcher Larry Allen on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin . He’s president of Allen Federal Business Partners.

Interview Transcript: 

Larry Allen Jared I think what we’ve seen is a significant delay in allocating money, and even in some cases, agencies not going right up and doing all the things that they potentially could have done before getting that final piece of the puzzle, which is their appropriated dollars. They were things that people anticipated were going to happen. And now we’re kind of really trying to play catch up. And I think we’re going to be playing catch up between now and the end of the fiscal year. And, simply put, I’m not sure that everybody’s going to be able to catch up. Some of the things that are critical spending, of course, those are going to get done. But, if there are some use it or lose it money, that’s going to things that would be nice to do, but you don’t have to have them. They may not get done this year.

Jared Serbu Meaning that we may actually run into some under execution issues in 2024 just because of time.

Larry Allen Oh, I think definitely, if you listen to what the three acquisition heads of the different DoD service branches said just last week on Capitol Hill, all three of them are looking for more acquisition professionals. And then if you look over at GSA, you look at their assisted acquisition portfolio. That’s done nothing but grow. All of that tells you that there are not enough acquisition professionals to go around in government. And if you don’t have enough of those, then you’re not going to be able to get everything out the other end of the business line in a very truncated fiscal year.

Jared Serbu It’s almost like you need a seasonal workforce at this point, since there’s so much work in the back half of the year.

Larry Allen That’s right. Nobody needs to wrap presents at Macy’s, but they need to award contracts.

Jared Serbu Let’s talk about 25 as well. From what you can tell, do we stand a better chance of getting something closer to on time appropriations for next fiscal year?

Larry Allen Well, I think it’s very difficult to tell at this point, Jared. I think the signs so far, though, are encouraging. Congressman [Tom] Cole (R-Okla.), he is one of the top appropriators in the House. He has said publicly that he’d like to get everything done by December. He’s hopeful that the House will be able to get its appropriations work done prior to the end of the current fiscal year, and that it’ll just take the next 2 or 3 months after that to square everything up with the Senate. I think that’s the best that people can hope for. December appropriations. Of course, I think the election in November will have a lot to say about that. If you see party control changing in one or more chambers, that could increase pressure to kick the can down the road into the next Congress in calendar year 2025. But I think that, look, if we can get December, if Chairman Cole is accurate, then everybody should be happy with that.

Jared Serbu Yeah. I was going to ask you if the election could play an impact in the other direction, in the sense that we’ll folks want to get things done before they have to focus on the last stretch of the campaign. But it sounds like you’re saying it’s more likely that they’ll say, let’s see how things go.

Larry Allen If you look at the what the Senate’s been doing, they have they’re not nearly as far along as the House. And usually it’s the other way around. So it’s kind of interesting to people who follow appropriations like me. But you also look at the fact that the summer brings both the Democratic and Republican conventions, which means that we’re going to lose a lot of time in session to those two events. And that plus the early leaving time for people to go back and get reelected, leaves a very short amount of time to get everything done before October. So I think November, December. That’s realistic.

Jared Serbu And speaking of calendar issues, as you point out in the newsletter this week, GSA was supposed to release the RFP, for Alliant 3 sometime in the third quarter, which, their end of the third quarter is coming up here. Do we know what’s holding things up and what are the implications if they don’t make that deadline?

Larry Allen I’m not really sure exactly what is holding the release of the RFP, Jared. What I would say, some speculation is that if you look at other large scale IDIQ contracts that have been put up, not just by GSA, but other agencies. There’s been a lot of discussion, a lot of protest activity over joint ventures, over, who gets credit for past performance in a joint venture or teaming situation. I suspect these are some of the same issues that the Alliant 3 team is trying to grapple with before the RFP comes out with the hope that they would reduce the protest activity after the solicitation hits the streets. The consequences here are that we actually have a pretty short runway in order to get Alliant 3 done. It’s technically possible that the Alliant 2 team could go back internally and seek a justification to extend those contracts, and I think they’ll have to do that. But I think it’s important that industry and government know, first, that’s not automatic. And second, you rarely get everything that you want out of that if you have to go through that process on the contract side. So if you’re looking for, let’s say, five months, you might end up with three months. That’s still not going to buy a lot of time to get Alliant 3 contracts negotiated and up and running. So I think it’s pretty short runway.

Jared Serbu All right. Last thing I want to talk about is, bid protests. And you have a good perennial reminder in the newsletter this week, which is if you are the winner of a contract and it is protested, the government is not your lawyer. I guess the Court of Federal Claims weighed in on this recently.

Larry Allen Jared, they did. And that’s really kind of what caught my attention. It was nice of the Court of Federal Claims to chime in and say what I think a lot of us have been thinking all along, and that is if you’re the winning contractor on a project that gets protested, it’s an established best practice for you to have your own legal counsel in there as an intervenor, to make sure that your interests of the original awardee are protected. I think that’s established, but not everybody does it and not everybody does it. Because, look, it does cost money to hire legal counsel and defend yourself. However, the Court of Federal Claims pointed out, quite rightly, that the government’s charge in a protest is proving the validation of its own acquisition process. And they may have different priorities from the initial winner. And they certainly have different priorities from the protester. So if the protester and the government both have their interests represented, so too should the original awardee.

Jared Serbu And I think we do see those interventions happening pretty regularly at the Court of federal Claims, especially with big companies involved. Is it less common at GAO and with smaller procurements?

Larry Allen I think it really depends Jared. A lot of times if you see a GAO decision, down at the bottom, you’ll see three sets of attorneys, usually one for the government, one for the protester or one for the intervenor who’s the original awardee. And certainly it’s easier to justify getting legal counsel at a jail protest, because it’s going to be, on average, less expensive than a protest at the claims court. So, if you’re a very small company you might not want to do that, or you might want to just rely on the government to get everything straightened out. But you kind of do that with a big risk. And the risk is that the government may decide that it needs to re complete the contract, and then you’re going to be back to spending more proposal dollars to get something that already won and thought was yours. And in that case, if you look at it that way, hiring outside legal help to represent your interests is a good idea.

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