“Congress is expected to pass a second continuing resolution funding the government through Dec. 20, and President Donald Trump will likely that bill, speculated a top executive at a leading government contractor trade group, but after that, federal contractors should be prepared for the worst.
“Don’t place a lot of bets after Dec. 20,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council in a Nov. 13 conference call on preparing for a potential federal government shutdown.
He advised contractors to get in touch with the federal agency counterparts now to discuss a range of issues, including contract status, deadlines, renewal dates, and task orders. Contractors should also know how their agency customers will issue “stop work” orders ahead of a shutdown to avoid confusion. “
“The Subcommittee surveyed 26 federal agencies and found the last three government shutdowns cost taxpayers nearly $4 billion
At least $3.7 billion in back pay to furloughed federal workers, and at least $338 million in other costs associated with the shutdowns, including extra administrative work, lost revenue, and late fees on interest payments. “
“Agencies reported to the Subcommittee that the combined total of furlough days during all three shutdowns was about 14,859,144, representing an estimated 56,938 years of lost productivity for those agency employees.
These figures, however, do not include data from some of the largest government agencies, which were unable to provide complete shutdown cost estimates to the Subcommittee, including the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Justice, and Commerce and the Environmental Protection Agency.
This report also documents the impacts that shutdowns have on important core government functions. “
“The longest government shutdown in U.S. history prompted some lawmakers to optimistically suggest Congress should find a way to prevent such an event from ever happening again.
But the prospects of eliminating government shutdowns for good are unlikely, at least at this point, leaving Congress to find piecemeal solutions to alleviate the impacts ahead of a future lapse in appropriations.
The House Oversight and Reform Government Operations Subcommittee on Monday heard stories from nearly a dozen federal contractors, who described how the 35-day government shutdown impacted their businesses and employees.
Impacts on contractor employees, revenue
For Leidos, a Fortune 500 company, 893 of its employees had no or limited work to perform during the government shutdown, because they were on contracts for closed agencies, CEO Roger Krone told the subcommittee.
The company lost $14 million in revenue during those 35 days and experienced a delay in payments on outstanding invoices, which totaled about $18 million.
Leidos’ work on 22 programs came to a halt during the government shutdown, which impacted about 200 of its subcontractors, Krone said.
It also allowed those employees to advance paid leave hours up to a balance of negative 80 hours. Nearly 400 Leidos employees used up all of their vacation time and then some.
“It will take them years to build back that base of paid time off that they had prior to the shutdown,” Krone said during the subcommittee’s field hearing at George Mason University.
In addition, Leidos launched a special relief initiative to allow other employees to donate paid time off to their colleagues impacted by the government shutdown. More than 50 employees said they were in state of extreme financial hardship and needed additional assistance. These employees received a grant of $2,500.
“If the shutdown were to have continued any longer, we anticipated receiving another 100 requests each week for assistance,” Krone said.
Leidos also set up specific team to redeploy impacted employees to open positions on contracts for agencies who weren’t impacted by the government shutdown.
But some contractors couldn’t redeploy their employees to work on other contracts that weren’t impacted by the shutdown, because that work required a specific security clearance their employees didn’t have, or it would have simply taken too long to receive those credentials.
Citizant, a small business that employs 180 professionals and supports the IRS, DHS and the departments of Defense and Justice, couldn’t redeploy its 35 employees who were impacted by the government shutdown to other work.
The company did continue to pay its employees during the shutdown, but that decision came at a cost.
“When your only customer doesn’t pay you for nearly four months and you’ve reached your company’s borrowing capacity, you face the dire prospect as a business owner to file for bankruptcy or sell off parts of your business for pennies on the dollar in order to pay your employees,” Alba Alemán, Citizant’s CEO, said. “We were within days of having to make that decision.”
Delayed invoices, slow to restart work
Outstanding invoices piled up until March, which put Citizant $4 million in debt. Alemán said her company also maxed out its borrowing capacity and put off paying its own vendors until April.
Other companies have also experienced a delay in receiving payment for outstanding invoices after the government shutdown, said David Berteau, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council.
“As of two weeks ago, we still had member companies who had not had invoices paid from work done before the shutdown. Those invoices were still being reviewed and processed. That goes back to invoices filed before Dec. 21 for work done and paid for before Dec. 21. That’s not common, but it’s not out of the question.”
Confusion reigned large during the government shutdown for many of the contractors.
Advanced Concepts and Technology (ACT 1) had two large contracts impacted by the shutdown at the Department of Homeland Security.
One contract was up for year-long option during lapse. The contract expired during the government shutdown, and the department didn’t have a contracting officer available to execute the option.
“They weren’t able to execute our option, so we basically moved off contract and couldn’t show up in the offices,” said Michael Niggel, the company’s CEO. “Our customer was frustrated with us because we weren’t there and other contractors were. They had funded contracts, but we did not.”
Now, ACT 1 has heard two different legal opinions from DHS about what should happen next.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the subcommittee’s chairman, suggested the contractors, led by PSC, develop a list of simple solutions that could resolve these challenges ahead of future shutdowns.
“Certainly one of them is to have some kind of provision in law that says during a shutdown, the expiration is on ice, so you don’t lose the contract simply because the contracting officers aren’t there,” Connolly said.
The contractors also suggested Congress consider a specific provision that allows work on a specific contract to automatically restart once the lapse in appropriations ends — as well as other measures to provide more clarity on stop work orders altogether.
“The head of procurement at DHS specifically sent a memo to all contracting officers saying unless you issue or your contractor is issued a stop work order, and as long as you don’t need guidance from the government to keep doing your job, leave it alone, walk away and let them keep doing their jobs,” Alemán said. “The problem is they sent the notice the day after the shutdown. They were no longer able to read their emails, so they didn’t know that. They shut us down temporarily. We got a copy of the memo because one customer that was working sent it to us. We sent it to [DHS] and they logged in and said, ‘Yup, keep working. You’re not on a stop work order.’”
More clarity on unemployment benefits
Just as many federal employees weren’t clear if they would be eligible to receive unemployment benefits during the government shutdown, federal contractors had similar questions.
“Most of our members were too confused,” said Ed Grabowski, a local president for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union. “Were they eligible for it because they were furloughed and they didn’t actually receive a lay off notice? So they weren’t astute enough to [know] how to apply. If I do take personal leave time, am I still entitled to collect unemployment compensation? … We had a problem with communication.”
Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are helicopter pilots, lab technicians and crane operators for agencies like NASA.
“This confusion at least, it seems like we could help eliminate that,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. She, along with Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) said there were opportunities for Congress to provide more clarity ahead of future lapses.
Contractors and other businessmen who were affected by the shutdown said the lapse had an impact on their staff and their ability to recruit new talent.
Wesley Ford, president of TKI Coffee, said he lost a significant amount of revenue during the government shutdown. His store is located near several agencies who were closed in January, and explicitly decided to lay off 40 percent of his staff during the shutdown so they could receive unemployment benefits.
At least 35 security officers who worked for one of the shuttered Smithsonian museums during the government shutdown quit, said Jaime Contreras, vice president of a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local in the national capital region.
And Alemán said several of the senior-level DHS employees that Citizant worked with on their contracts left during the government shutdown.
Some of PSC’s member companies told Berteau their recruits had canceled interviews during the government shutdown.
“It’s a pretty big task, but we are certainly reaching out all of those contracting offices to see how we can help,” SBA administrator Linda McMahon told members of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking member, and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, asked the Government Accountability Office to review the shutdown’s impact on SBA programs and the businesses that rely on them.
“The general impact on our economy was felt by all business, but small businesses don’t have deep pockets, and it was extremely difficult and challenging for them to be able to maintain their workforce,” Cardin said at the hearing.
During the shutdown, SBA furloughed nearly 2,000 employees, about two-thirds of its total workforce, which ground most loan operations to a halt.
Since then, McMahon said the agency has gotten nearly all of its loan application volumes “back to pre-lapse levels.”
All excepted and furloughed SBA employees, she added, received back pay the first week after the shutdown.
Expanding outreach to women, veterans, rural communities
In fiscal 2017, the federal government met its 23 percent small business contracting goal, and for the first time exceeded $100 billion on the value of those contracts. However, it just barely missed its 5 percent prime contracting goal for women-owned small businesses.
“Sometimes we fall a little short of meeting that 5 percent,” McMahon said. “I want to exceed that 5 percent.”
Since 2013, SBA and its private-sector partners have given more than 14,000 women entrepreneurs a crash-course in government contracting through their ChallengeHER program.
But Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) asked McMahon whether women entrepreneurs actually operate in industries that intersect with the federal marketplace.
“A lot of small businesses that I’ve encountered, they work really hard, but I think they do not produce things that the government wants,” Hirono said.
In her response, McMahon said she’s visited several women-owned businesses that serve as a vital part of the supply chain for larger prime government contractors.
“Those women, it is unbelievable how they run and operate their businesses,” she said.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) asked for an update on implementation of the Veteran Small Business Enhancement Act, which President Donald Trump signed in January. The bill makes veteran small-business owners eligible to receive surplus equipment and property identified by the General Services Administration.
“My office has been hearing from veteran-owned small businesses eager to take advantage of this new program,” Duckworth said.
McMahon said SBA is waiting on GSA to “set the parameters” for the program.
Last summer, SBA signed a memorandum of understanding with the Agriculture Department to help cross-promote the financial programs each agency officers in rural communities. The partnership, McMahon said, helps get the word out about SBA programs through the USDA’s 96,000 employees stationed at field offices.
“What we’re doing is combining our marketing materials, as well as loans that we have [and] loans that USDA has and providing those marketing materials into the marketplace so that more and more of our potential rural business development can see exactly what is available for them,” she said.
SBA looks to serve as cybersecurity ‘role model’
Looking forward, McMahon said SBA should also serve as a cybersecurity “role model” for small businesses to follow.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) said small business owners often don’t consider themselves targets until it’s too late.
“They don’t have the resources to recover if all that information is gone from them,” Rosen said. “They have valuable information cyber-criminals want,” including credit card information and customer data.
Before reaching out to industry, McMahon said she went through “great strides and great efforts” to ensure its own data was protected.
“We can’t roll exactly what that is to small businesses, but I think making small businesses aware of the threat of cybersecurity, we found, was one of the things that they didn’t ever think about when they were setting up their businesses,” she said.
“Government staff lost a month managing requirements development, source selection, performance monitoring, new awards, contract changes and funding new and existing contracts. Industry firms and their staff lost a month of income, spent inordinate energy managing cash flow and contingency plans. Now they will wait that much longer for RFPs, amendments, modifications and awards to develop, to include the many decisions regarding what ongoing work was performed, whether it was properly authorized and who is liable for what costs during the shutdown.
A typical situation could be accounting for work the contractor elected to perform during the shutdown, without explicit guidance from the government — which didn’t want work to stop, but couldn’t explicitly direct that it continue. Accommodations will be reached, which may meet the spirit, if not specific requirements of procurement rules. The Federal Acquisition Regulation changes clause will be exercised vigorously.
Of longer-term concern is maintaining the viability and integrity of the federal acquisition system over time; of attracting new and retaining existing contractors, especially the “nontraditional” firms government currently covets. Then there is recruiting top talent to support the vital and complex missions government is undertaking. The problems facing the U.S. government now and in the future are widespread, technologically complex, urgent and affect citizen health, welfare, housing, economic vitality and national security. Success and sustainment of a successful American way of life depends on the best talent to be found, which will occur through contractor support.
Acquisition reform and streamlining includes everything from regulatory and statutory relief to improved technology and organizations changes. However, all of that pales by comparison to the vital need for budgetary reform and certainty. No business will work with, nor top talent be attracted to, an uncertain customer where all manner of business, technical and scientific decisions are political in nature. To improve government acquisition, sound fiscal planning and budget execution will do more to attract and retain top professionals, as well as outside firms, than most other changes combined. Any proposals to improve federal acquisition include budgetary reform. Passing appropriations bills on time, based on a predetermined agreed to strategy, would be even better.
Since we’re still on a three-week clock, the acquisition system in many agencies will have less than six months to execute their goals for fiscal 2019. Costs go up, uncertainty increases and the professionals we need to manage these activities deserve better.
If the federal government is to retain global leadership and protect and defend its citizens, we must get our fiscal house in order.”
“The General Services Administration released two pre-cursors to major acquisitions last week with the release of the draft solicitation for the $8 billion back-office cloud procurement and a request for information to expand the Centers of Excellence initiative.
The Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and GSA launched a major cloud and IT modernization effort by announcing an industry day on Feb. 26 in Washington, D.C.
And the Office of Personnel Management is exploring how to create a central portal for the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.
These are just a few of the more than 4,700 requests for proposals, RFIs and awards released on FedBizOpps.gov in the week after the partial government shutdown ended, opening up the acquisition floodgates.
By comparison, the last week of January in 2018 and 2017 saw seven to eight times fewer RFPs, RFIs and awards — 689 in 2018 and 528 in 2017 — than last week.
The Defense Logistics Agency alone released more than 700 solicitations last week for everything from nonchargeable batteries to liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen to grenade launcher barrels, according to research by U.S. Federal Contractor Registration, a third-party which helps contractors register to do business with the government.
Kevin Plexico, senior vice president for information solutions at Deltek, said the volume of FedBizOpps notices posted during the shutdown by agencies that were impacted was about 19 per day.
“In the four full days since the shutdown ended, the pace has picked up to nearly 100 per day,” he said. “In terms of solicitations, DHS has been the most active. They posted 64 solicitations during the entire 35 day shutdown. They’ve posted 63 in the four days since reopening — a rate of 16 solicitations per day.”
The departments of Agriculture, Interior and Justice also have been playing catch up, posting 3-to-4 RFPs per day over the last week.
Among all the procurement actions that came out this week, GSA released two that many in the federal IT community are watching closely.
The first was a RFI released on e-Buy for the Centers of Excellence IT modernization initiative for a new blanket purchase agreement so every agency can take advantage of phase 1 services.
“The desired outcome of the Discovery BPA is to emphasize repeatability and scalability. We want to give every agency that works with CoEs access to private sector partners who can provide the expertise and technological know-how to successfully implement IT modernization agencywide,” said Bob De Luca, executive director of CoE, in a statement on Github. “It will also serve to reduce the total cost associated with the CoE efforts, allowing agencies to allocate more of their budget towards deliverables rather than on administrative procurement work.”
As an aside — and let me get on my soapbox for a second — while GSA was smart in issuing some of these details of the RFI on a public Github site, obtaining a copy of the actual RFI was way too difficult. In fact, several Federal Acquisition Service executives I talked to in contracting didn’t have access to the RFI under eBuy. There was no reason for GSA not to release the RFI publicly on FedBizOpps or through the Github site. The lack of transparency, once again, is bewildering.
The best line of the Github listing: “Interested vendors can view the RFI on eBuy by searching RFQID number RFQ1347115 with a title of ‘Center of Excellence Discovery,’” that is unless you aren’t on eBuy and then you can’t see it. So much for attracting new or non-traditional vendors.
Back to the details of the RFI, under phase 1 of the CoE, agencies work with a vendor to identify modernization priorities across seven task areas. GSA added information security and workforce reskilling and transformation to the existing five of cloud adoption, IT infrastructure optimization, contact center, customer experience and data analytics.
“This blanket purchase agreement is intended to account for each future partner CoE agency by offering a means of initial and continuous discovery work, by center need, considering the various different factors, influences, and context that applies to each agency’s organizational transformation needs,” the RFI states. “The contractor shall provide discovery and assessment support to lay the foundation for successful implementations of modernized shared services across the (agency).”
GSA is seeking industry input on how they would provide assessment services. Comments on the RFI are due Feb. 8th.
Draft DEOS RFP open for comment
The other big procurement is the draft RFP for the $8 billion Defense Enterprise Office Solutions (DEOS) procurement.
GSA, and its partner the Defense Information Systems Agency, said the procurement will be a single award, firm fixed price BPA “with a contractor who will provide a widely used/widely available, and non-developmental and fully integrated collaboration solution.”
The BPA will have a five-year base with two two-year options and one one-year option for a total of 10 years.
“The 10-year period of performance will provide the department with the flexibility to transition users based on user demand, migration schedules and legacy contracts or service end-of-life terms,” the draft RFP states. “For the Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet) and Secret IP Router Network (SIPRNet) implementations in United States territories and possessions, the government expects to leverage DoD approved commercially hosted facilities to meet the DEOS requirements. However, due to DoD data sovereignty requirements, the contractor must implement their NIPRNet and SIPRNet cloud service offerings within DoD data centers (e.g., Stuttgart, Wiesbaden, Capodichino) for locations outside of the United States territories and possessions. For locations outside of the United States territories and possessions, the contractor must provide a standalone environment within a DoD data center. The solution must be self-contained and must include the required infrastructure, hardware, software and auxiliary components required to implement, manage and maintain the CSO environment within the DoD data center.”
DISA said in the draft RFP that DEOS eventually will serve as many as 3.15 million users and more than 4 million directory objects.
Comments on the draft RFP are due Feb. 15.
OPM, CBP, ICE issue notices
Two other interesting procurement actions worth noting are from OPM, and from CBP, ICE, USCIS and GSA.
OPM released an RFI looking for a cloud system to host a central enrollment program that is a one-stop-shop within an account-based portal where enrollees can compare and learn about FEHB plan options, including benefits, cost-sharing, and total out-of-pocket expenses, select a plan that fits the unique needs of their family and complete the enrollment process, all with customer service assistance.
“The CEP will include a web-based portal for self-service enrollment transactions, robust decision support tools and a customer support center to assist enrollees via phone, email or online chat,” the RFI states. “The CEP user experience will be supported by a data warehouse, enrollment transaction processing, and ongoing reconciliation of enrollment and premiums.”
Finally, CBP, ICE, USCIS and GSA are holding an IT modernization and cloud migration industry day on Feb. 26 in Washington, D.C.
The RFI states the industry day will cover a range of topics from multi-cloud to analytics to current and future opportunities.”
The federal government shutdown has dramatically impacted my business this year. Many of my clients are small enterprises working for the federal government and have received stop work orders due to the shutdown and continue in a shutdown stage even today due to uncertainty among government contracting officers and the bureaucratic nature of the federal government. Much like turning a big ship in the ocean, the procurement arms of government agencies do not react quickly.
My clients, on the other hand, are dead in the water until the smoke clears on this political issue. Some are top performing technical and service companies with super staffs they have had to lay off. Others were lucky enough to have friendly bankers who extended credit lines with completed work invoices to the government on hold as collateral so payroll could be met.
At the heart this recurring political issue is the annual government budgeting cycle, which has become a ruinous exercise in a fragmented political venue. It must be managed better and it can be. Several states have recognized the value of a budget covering more than one year. Please see the following article to learn how the feds could do it. We cannot continue on this path and we do not need to.
Small to Feds is maintained by Ken Larson a Veteran of 2 tours – US Army Vietnam.As a Volunteer Counselor, he assists many small businesses with their planning and operations processes.Subsequent to his military service Ken spent over 30 years in federal government contract management and 10 years in small business consulting. He gets many inquiries from small companies wishing to enter or enhance their position in federal government contracting or grow their commercial enterprise. This site is intended to assist in answering those questions and others small businesses have in developing and operating a successful firm.Those wishing a free counseling session may contact Ken at: Micro Mentor Ken Larson
” Regardless of which side of the border-wall debate you agree with, it’s important to realize that the government shutdown is a bad thing that gets worse each day it continues. This partial shutdown is already the longest in U.S. history and there are no indications that a solution is imminent. While there have been several shutdowns in the last few years, we should not accept this as the “new normal.” Shutdowns cause far too much damage economically, personally, and institutionally to be taken in stride. Some impacts are obvious and immediate, while others can be subtle and longer-term, but no less important.
There has been a great deal of focus on the impact of the shutdown on the approximately 800,000 federal employees out of work or working without pay, and the loss of government services and programs that many people rely on. That focus is appropriate, as the personal cost to families is staggering as they struggle to pay for their mortgage, groceries, utility bills, tuition, and more. Millions of Americans face hardships as economic ripples from the shutdown expand and more critical government support programs are suspended.
In addition, the shutdown is exacting a significant toll on programs that help keep the government honest, transparent, and accountable. These aspects of the shutdown often get less attention, likely because they seem more removed from the public’s immediate concerns, but in reality these important offices and functions exist to serve the public’s interest.
Inspectors general are a perfect example. Every federal agency has an Office of Inspector General (OIG), specifically tasked with operating as a watchdog, auditing financials and investigating potential waste, fraud, and abuse. The shutdown has essentially closed several inspector general offices and left others short-staffed despite the importance of their work.
The Department of Justice plan calls for 267 OIG staff, or 55 percent, of the 488 full-time employees, to remain working during the shutdown.
Congress gets progress reports from OIGs every six months to remain aware of the continual accomplishments of these busy offices. A review of the reports covering April 2018 through September 2018 from ten of the shut-down agencies found that, collectively, the OIG offices opened and closed more than 800 investigations, issued more than 669 reports, secured 620 indictments and 507 convictions, and collected more than $411 million in criminal restitution, fines, civil recoveries, and forfeited assets.
Each day that offices like these are shut down or operating with skeleton staffing means another day lost for investigations, fewer wrongdoers caught and convicted, and less money recovered.
Whistleblowers are another important element of holding agencies accountable. Despite the best efforts of OIGs and Congress to provide oversight, too often we still have to rely on the conscience of good people to step forward and expose waste, fraud, and abuse. But key offices tasked with following up on these reports and protecting the rights of whistleblowers are also shut down
Similarly, the IRS Whistleblower Office has only 6 people working there during the shutdown, which is only about 16 percent of the 38 full-time employees the office noted in its last annual report. The retained staff are only “to provide leadership and oversight of excepted activities including timekeeping and conducting orderly shutdown and recall activities.”
Beyond the staffing shortages in key offices, government activities that provide transparency and accountability are offline across multiple agencies. Agency websites, a major vehicle keeping the public informed, aren’t being updated. Most agencies have notices posted that appear on every webpage informing visitors that the information may be out of date.
These include critical public information websites like the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which oversees the safety of all sorts of consumer products such as cribs, toys, power tools, clothes, and more. The Commission hasn’t posted any new recalls on its website or on SaferProducts.gov, which it also runs, since December 20. Prior to the shutdown, it was posting information on multiple recalls each week, sometimes more than one a day.
The Federal Register website, which is the official daily publication for government rules and notices, is still available but all but devoid of new daily content. The website isn’t being supported but the systems remain available to agencies for notices that are necessary to protect life and property. So even though about 75 percent of federal agencies remain open, the notices and proposed rules have essentially ground to a halt. Prior to the shutdown, the Federal Register often published more than 100 notices, proposed rules, finalized rules and other documents each day. During the shutdown, the site content has dwindled to a handful of notices each day, often fewer than ten.
Similarly, Regulations.gov, the federal government’s main portal for posting regulatory material and getting public input on proposed rules, has almost no new material being posted. There are two reasons this site has dried up. First, it relies directly on proposed rules in the Federal Register, which have slowed to a trickle. Second, even though the website handles regulations for all agencies, the site is managed under an EPA contract and that agency is shut down. It remains unclear if the Administration will grant extensions for public comment periods open during the shutdown. With the website down and several agencies shut down and unable to respond to inquiries or post additional materials, the public input process is seriously compromised.
Processing of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests is also suspended at most of the affected agencies. FOIA is another major tool for transparency and accountability. Many agencies receive thousands of FOIA requests each month. The process isn’t fast or even entirely reliable, but every year it facilitates the release of millions of pages of government material.
Several of the shut-down agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce, and National Archives and Records Administration, use the FOIAOnline portal to manage online requests and provide electronic access to released records. However, the site, which is managed by the EPA, has posted a notice explaining that due to the shutdown “continued systems operations cannot be guaranteed” and “submissions may not be processed in a timely manner.”
The Department of the Interior has taken down its online form to submit a FOIA request and posted a notice telling visitors that “no FOIA requests can be accepted or processed at this time.” The Department of Agriculture similarly has a notice on its FOIA Public Access Linkexplaining that “FOIA requests submitted to the USDA will not be processed until funding has been restored.”
It is troubling that transparency and accountability are on hold across a quarter of the federal government. The government shutdown is the ultimate antithesis of an effective government. The issues raised above are just some of the many reasons the shutdown should end as soon as possible. These concerns also raise important questions about how agencies can catch up on these important responsibilities when the long shutdown is over. Affected agencies would be smart to issue plans on the steps intended to handle the backlogs of investigations, requests, and other work. Congress should seriously consider providing additional resources to the shut-down agencies for these accountability and transparency tasks, as well as for major projects, to help make up for the millions of lost workdays across their programs.”
“While contractors can submit requests for equitable adjustments or utilize other tools for recovering continuing and increased costs associated with a shutdown, there is no mechanism to recover lost revenue and back pay.”
To fix that issue, Congress should draft what I am calling the Contractor and Employee Restoration Act (CERA)”
“At some point, the shutdown will end and the entire federal government will re-open. While government employees will probably receive back pay (after facing financial hardships from missed paychecks), government contractors and their employees will be left with nothing to repair the damage because of the shutdown.
It is easy to think that contractors can absorb the cost of a shutdown without issue. This mistaken belief, however, ignores the fact that many contractors operate on very small margins with little wiggle room due to the popularity of awarding contracts on a lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA) basis. Contracts like those often operate with profit margins in the low single digits.
To make matters worse, contractors still incur significant overhead expenses while a shutdown progresses such as rent and salary for corporate employees. In speaking with clients, many decide to focus on selling to the federal government out of a sense of patriotism or because the government is usually a very reliable business partner, but a government shutdown upends those assumptions. The employees (particularly hourly ones) working for those contractors often face similar hardships to their federal counterparts, but never have their back pay restored. This can have a financial impact that follows these employees for the rest of their lives.
To be sure, there is no perfect solution aside from ensuring the government never shuts down. Even so, there are things that Congress and the President can do when the shutdown finally ends: attempt to restore contractors and their workers to the position they would have been had the shutdown not occurred.
A bill like CERA would be complicated because of the various methods services are sold to the government, but it would go part of the way to ensuring fairness to contractors and their employees. For services with hourly employees, contractors would be paid at the same level they would have been paid during the shutdown so long as they compensate their employees as if the shutdown had not occurred. In these instances, CERA would call for the allocation of a certain amount of funds to each agency impacted by the shutdown and for the creation of a new contract line item (CLIN) in each impacted contract for the time period.
The CLIN would be for services not rendered during the time period the shutdown lasted. Unfortunately, this would not work for contractors (and their employees) who primarily provide products, though it would be interesting to see if there are any ideas about a similar proposal for them.
While CERA would cost money in the short term, cost savings would be realized on a few fronts: Lower turnover for contractor employees and increased competition for contracts because contractors would be more willing to bid on small margin contracts if they knew a shutdown would not throw the contract under water. Contractors, their employees and the taxpayers would all win.
In the end, CERA would hopefully minimize the impact of the shutdown for some of the innocent bystanders: service contractors and their employees.
Some tips for contractors dealing with the impact of the shutdown can be found here.”
“The impacted federal agencies employing the largest proportions of veterans include the Homeland Security, Transportation and Justice departments, where veterans make up 25 percent or more of the workforce ” [latest figures out of OPM]
“Army veteran David Shanley-Dillman pretty much lives paycheck-to-paycheck since a recent string of financial issues depleted his family’s savings.
And because he works for the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service, one of the agencies impacted by the ongoing government shutdown, come Friday, the former military police officer is about to find out what it’s like to live on no paycheck at all.
“Now we’re looking at our usual bills. We’re being very conservative [about] whether we’re going to pay them on time or not, depending on how the shutdown goes forward,” said Shanley-Dillman, a planner for the Huron-Manistee National Forests in Michigan. “Food and shelter first.”
Nearly a third of the federal workforce is made up of veterans — an estimated 248,400 of whom are not getting paychecks as the government is three weeks into a partial shutdown, according to the AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council.
“Stress levels are going up. The mental fatigue is going up,” said William Attig, the council’s executive director. “This is, in my opinion, a recipe for disaster for some of these veterans.”
These include border patrol officers, federal prison guards, Transportation Security Administration agents and air traffic controllers, among others.
“They believe that this is a continuation of service to their nation,” Attig said. “It is shameful that their lives are being played with as pawns from either side.”
In a tweet recognizing National Law Enforcement Day Wednesday, President Trump included a shout-out to federal law enforcement officers, writing, “We love you and will always support you.”View image on Twitter
After initially saying he would accept responsibility for a shutdown, Trump has since blamed the shutdown on Democrats, who will not approve Trump’s push for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border — a plan also rejected by some members of his own party.
“This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It’s also what our professionals at the border want and need,” he said in a televised address to the nation Tuesday.
In her response on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., highlighted the fact that the shutdown is hurting veterans, whom Trump has vowed to protect and support since the campaign trail.
“Our veterans are very adversely affected by this. If we want to support our veterans, we will not hurt their credit rating. And that’s what missing a mortgage, a rental payment, a car payment and the rest does to everyone’s credit rating,” she said.
Build a wall or don’t — Shanley-Dillman doesn’t care. He just wants to see elected officials come to some sort of compromise so that he and his other veteran colleagues can get back to work.
“I know some of them, like myself, have issues with PTSD,” he said. “Veterans just do better with a full-time job, a regular job. That’s one of the most impactful things that can help a veteran manage life. The shutdown on top of PTSD — it’s difficult to navigate.”
Attig said the Union Veterans Council isn’t pointing fingers or taking a stance on the wall funding, but the organization is strongly advocating for veterans and other federal workers to get paid.
“If we need to improve border security, we’re all for that,” he said. “But people’s lives shouldn’t be put on the line and held hostage.”