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Yet another sequester-related headache for agencies

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One of the great unknowns of sequestration is how many hours of federal agency staff time have been consumed by drafting, discussing and implementing the steps needed to handle the across-the-board spending cuts.

And it’s not over yet.

Under an April 1 deadline stemming from the continuing resolution approved last fall, more than three dozen agencies are supposed to give Congress updated operating plans that reflect the impact of the reductions for fiscal 2013. Inconveniently, however, lawmakers are still tinkering with a final version of  the FY13 budget, meaning that some agencies—the Defense Department in particular—may have to rewrite those plans.

“We’re going to have a real problem because you’re about to change the whole framework for us,” DoD Comptroller Robert Hale said yesterday at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.  Because the baseline for the sequester cuts will change, Hale said, “we will need to go back and make sure we still have the right plans.”

Last fall’s CR expires March 27, meaning that lawmakers have to approve a replacement by next Wednesday or a trigger a partial government shutdown. The consensus that is that something will pass by then that will substantially rework the Pentagon’s budget to provide more flexibility.

Under a bill now grinding its way through the Senate, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA and a handful of other agencies could also see significant changes in the allocation of their FY13 budgets.  Under questioning from Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, Hale conceded that DoD will probably not be able to make the April 1 deadline with “meaningful information.”

“We will respond to the law,” Rafael Borras, DHS undersecretary for management, said at the same hearing. “If there are any changes between now and April 1, we will adjust accordingly.”

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