With just a few working days left on the congressional calendar, the fiscal year is likely to end with a continuing resolution. So now is the time for contractors and agencies alike to start preparing for it. Executive Vice President for Policy at the Professional Services Council, Stephanie Kostro, spoke to Federal Drive with Tom Temin for some advice.
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Tom Temin: Let’s start with the idea of the CR – so much going on in the world, but a continuing resolution is striking close to home. All right, what should contractors do at this point?
Stephanie Kostro: So I think the only silver lining in this whole situation regarding the fiscal year coming to an end without any full year appropriations in sight, is that we’ve been to this rodeo before. We’ve seen what happens what when we get to the end of the fiscal year without a full year appropriation. Hopefully, congressional staffs are working on a continuing resolution. The one issue that I often have with situations like these is that contracting officers and the agencies themselves often don’t want to talk about what goes into a CR, don’t want to think about what happens if you don’t get a CR and that is a shutdown. We’ve experienced several of those over the last 10 years. And our advice from the Professional Services Council is to advise our member companies: Go ahead and prepare for a shutdown. There’s a checklist that we have on our website for our members. It includes things like reaching out to the contracting officer representatives and the contracting officers, seeing what it is that they can do in terms of timelines for deliverables, timelines for invoicing, what happens in a shutdown. The problem that we face is that a lot of our companies are dealing with CORs and KOs as we call them, or contracting officer representatives and contracting officers, who don’t want to admit that a shutdown may be in the offing. And so that is where we run into some hiccups. But we are advising folks to plan for a CR, plan for the possibility, although low, of a shutdown, because the consequences of the shutdown are high.
Tom Temin: Of course, in theory, no new program can start under a continuing resolution. And it’s probably too late for anything new to get underway in this fiscal year, given that there’s only a few weeks left. So basically, you’ve got to live on those annuities for that period of time, which could be days, could be weeks, we’ve seen it go an entire year in years past.
Stephanie Kostro: That’s true. And you have to as a company, be very careful in how you budget and how you approach things like a shutdown, and a CR, because of exactly what you’re talking about. The other issue that is facing us right now, in light of all of the recent storms, whether it’s a hurricane, tornado flooding, or what happened in Afghanistan recently and is continuing to go on with refugee resettlement, is that we’re looking at the possibility of a supplemental appropriation to address the billions of dollars that won’t be needed for whether it’s weather-related relief or refugee resettlement relief. And that’s going to be a big ticket item as well.
Tom Temin: I guess you could call that the worldwide contingency fund because it includes the United States and overseas. And let’s talk about Afghanistan for a moment because there are many contractors that were evacuated, Americans that work for contractors there. And that leaves behind the many Afghans that work for contractors. And what’s the situation from your standpoint?
Stephanie Kostro: So I come at it from having been a contractor myself in Iraq, I worked directly for the State Department for over a year there. My husband has deployed as an Army reservist. And so it really is heartbreaking and heart wrenching, to see the situation that a lot of our Afghan allies are in. Many of them, and you’ve heard the president talk about over 100,000 folks were evacuated in two weeks. And that’s a great number. But it doesn’t talk about the numbers that are still on the ground or Afghan allies who are somewhere in the visa application process whether that’s for a Special Immigrant Visa or whether that’s for a P-2 refugee asylum seeker. I think at the end of the day, when you look at the folks that we have in Afghanistan, they’ve got some horrible stories to tell. We at PSC get emails from Afghans who are reaching out saying, “We can’t access the airport, the Taliban has knocked on our door two or three times, we haven’t answered, but at some point, they’re going to start stop knocking, and they’re going to start entering. And what do we do in that case?” And those are frankly, emails that that keep us all up at night because it is a very human story and human emotion that is created with that. Our companies have done everything that they could to provide letters of recommendation, validation that folks who have worked with them as you know, as subcontractors or as contractor employees to make them eligible for some of these visa programs. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Stephanie Kostro, she is executive vice president for policy at the Professional Services Council. And yes, they might be getting letters of recommendation and say these people are okay and should be allowed to come here, but the people have to go through the Taliban to get out of there.
Stephanie Kostro: And getting the letters of recommendation and the validation that worked, provided valuable and faithful service – that’s one step of this process. There’s a lot of US government workers who are working day and night to facilitate and to process these visa applications. But you’re looking tens of thousands, over 100,000 visa applications. And unless State Department and others get the resources that they need, this is going to be a very slow process.
Tom Temin: Where’s H. Ross Perot when you really need them? And while we have you, let’s talk about the COVID vaccine questions. I mean, the agencies are still struggling with what to do with their own employees, and what their specific policies will be. What’s going on with respect to contractors at this point?
Stephanie Kostro: As you’ll recall, there was a directive coming out of the White House that talked about folks either having to attest that they’ve been vaccinated, or they could reply no, I haven’t been or declined to answer and that puts them into a testing regime. The idea when this first rolled out a while ago, a few weeks ago, was that it would apply to federal employees as well as federal contractors. The guidance that we’ve seen coming out of agencies is mostly regarding the civil servants and the civilian employees who work, as well as the military personnel. We are still seeking additional information about contractors, some of whom work on site, some of whom have to visit, the question becomes we’ve got some memos that are coming from agencies that are not on letterhead, and not signed, some are on letterhead, but not signed, some are both signed, and on letterhead, it’s all very confusing, and all of the agencies are taking their own tack on this, I would say that we are still waiting on some of this significantly large agencies to come out with their guidance. The attestation piece is actually the easier piece it is – there’s a form, do you fill it out, who do you show it to to gain entrance? Is it the Federal Protective Service? Is it the DoD, the Pentagon [Force] Police Agency, I should say? The harder part is the testing part. If you declined to answer or say, no, I’m not vaccinated, what does that do in terms of what test is acceptable? Can you run to your local drugstore pharmacy and pick up a rapid test and administer it yourself? Do you need a doctor to administer it? Is it good for 48 or 72 hours? There are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. And so we at PSC are forwarding a lot of our ideas for consideration or issues for consideration to the different agencies. And hopefully we’ll get responses.
Tom Temin: Yeah, I wish we had some good news around here. It is nearly the 9/11 anniversary, the 20th year, I guess that makes it a big one. And contractors really changed their direction quite drastically in the aftermath of that event. And in some ways, we’re still living with the changes it wrought.
Stephanie Kostro: Yeah, I think anyone who can remember Sept. 11, 2001, can recall how seminal that event was in the terms of the hearts and minds of the American people. That includes government employees, which I was at the time at the Pentagon, or the contracting workforce. And we like to remind folks that, the wars have been fought on all fronts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. And while we’ve had more than 7,000 service members unfortunately killed in action in these in these far off locations, we’ve also had over 8,000, or around 8,000 contractors killed. And it is one of those things where contractors making the ultimate sacrifice often gets lost in the shuffle of the headlines and whatnot. And those sacrifices are real. Those are folks who are not coming home from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and their memory deserves to be honored. In addition, the US government has undergone several bureaucratic changes. We all remember sort of the the stand up of the Department of Homeland Security, some of the intelligence agencies have been reshuffled and reprioritized. And so contractors have been along for every step of the way in that respect as well. So in the last 20 years, a lot of hard work and dedication from civil servants and military personnel but also from their federal contracting partners. So we’d like to remind people of that, particularly when we’re coming up on such a solemn occasion.