Koskinen: Assume no shutdown, but prepare for one

Wednesday - 3/2/2011, 5:31pm EST

John Koskinen, former deputy director for management, Office of Management and Budget

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

A two-week spending bill that funds government through March 18 is headed to President Obama. The measure would buy agencies some more time to prepare for a potential shutdown.

Both political parties are making a "good faith effort" to avoid a shutdown, but agencies should still have a plan in place in case Congress cannot reach a compromise to fund government, said John Koskinen, the former deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget during the last partial government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996, in an interview with In Depth with Francis Rose.

"You really need to be prepared for it and not scurry around in the last minute," Koskinen said.

In 1995, OMB had the same advice for agencies - to assume there wouldn't be a shutdown but be prepared for one. The challenge then was that the government had never been shut down before besides "nominal shutdowns" over the weekend under the Reagan administration, Koskinen said.

In the late summer of 1995, OMB asked agencies to develop a shutdown plan if they did not already have one. By fall, OMB was reviewing the plan and ensuring "consistent decisions" across agencies, Koskinen said.

By mid-November, the government had run out of money, he said.

As agencies prepare for a potential shutdown in a few weeks, Koskinen recommends using the 1995 plan as a starting point.

"Start with the presumption that the '95 plan was appropriate at the time, and update it in light of the changed circumstances," Koskinen said.

Both the 1994 and 2010 elections brought in new Republicans serious about controlling expenditures. The difference now is that the deficit is "huge," Koskinen said. At the same time, the country is now engaged in two wars, he added.

What's changed, too, is perhaps that 1995/96 were a reminder of the importance of the federal workers.

In the 1990s, "A lot of people - certainly new people in the Congress and a lot of people around the country - had lost sight of the wide range of important and desirable and critical activities the government engages in," Koskinen said. "In those days, people thought the government was welfare and the (US)AID program."

"They got reminded the hard way," Koskinen said.

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