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If There’s a Budget Deal, Will Things Get Back to Normal?

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That’s a question I found myself asking while reading recent reports about a potential budget deal. During the shutdown, things definitely didn’t feel normal and I didn’t think they’d get back there again. But if we do get a two-year budget deal, I think a lot of us will greet it with a huge sigh of relief. Maybe federal managers and contractors can actually do some future planning. A potential deal provides some confidence that we know the top-level budget numbers, and it will minimize the chances of future shutdowns.

Dare I say it? We might even see the return of a rare species in Washington these days ‑‑ an appropriations bill that isn’t a continuing resolution or even an omnibus bill.

I’m happy to contemplate those scenarios, and a deal is nothing but a good thing. But I think at least three things won’t change:

  1. Lack of direction. We are still going to have trouble getting any policy decisions out of a deadlocked Congress. It’s tough to tackle new problems without some sort of policy framework. Without congressional action, can we fix the government procurement and information technology system in the wake of a tough Obamacare rollout? Can we make progress in dozens of other areas where authorization bills and other legislation has been held up for years?
  2. Tight budgets. We’re still going to be in a resource-constrained environment. The sequester might be suspended, but we are not entering a period of growth. Budgets will be flat for the foreseeable future, and that means taking on new problems will be all the harder.
  3. Scrutiny. The level of scrutiny from Congress, outside groups and others isn’t going to lessen. The gotcha atmosphere in Washington isn’t going away. We’re already on to the 2014 mid-term election cycle, and I don’t know how many articles I’ve seen about 2016.

So, I see a moderately better environment where at least we can all catch our breath for a bit, but nothing transformational. We still need to tackle some big problems and make progress on complex issues. But, at least for now, it isn’t getting worse.

Alan Pentz is co-founder of Corner Alliance, a Washington, DC based consulting firm that focuses on helping government clients manage the fire hose of expectations, communicate their value, and stop the endless cycle of meetings. Before consulting, Alan worked on Capitol Hill as a speechwriter for Sen. Max Baucus. Follow him on Twitter at @apentz

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