The federal government is primed to spend as much as $300 billion in the final quarter of fiscal 2018 as agencies rush to obligate money appropriated by Congress before Sept. 30 or return it to the Treasury Department.
The spending spree is the product of the omnibus budget agreement signed six months late in March coupled with funding increases of $80 billion for defense and $63 billion for civilian agencies. The shortened time frame left procurement officials scrambling to find ways to spend the money.
Through August, defense and civilian agencies obligated some $300 billion in contracts. But to spend all the money appropriated to them by Congress, they may have to obligate well over $200 billion more in the final quarter of fiscal 2018, which ends in two weeks.
“It is not impossible for this to happen, but it is unprecedented for that high of a percentage to be obligated to contracts for a fiscal quarter,” David Berteau, president of the Professional Services Council, told Nextgov. “You’d have to spend almost 50 percent of the yearly total in three months.”
And yet the federal government may do just that. According to analysts at The Pulse, agencies have obligated $36 billion more toward contracts since July 1, based on data from the Federal Procurement Data System. FPDS data is imperfect and typically delayed—sometimes for weeks or months—but it does suggest significant spending nonetheless.
A Government Business Council survey conducted through Sept. 6 of more than 400 federal government decision-makers found that 52 percent were either “very confident” or “extremely confident” their agencies would spend the rest of their fiscal 2018 budget. The Government Business Council is the research arm of Government Executive Media Group, Nextgov’s parent company.
The Senate is racing to avoid the third government shutdown of the year ahead of a looming end-of-the-month deadline.
Senators on Tuesday voted 93-7 to pass a sweeping $854 billion spending bill that includes funding for the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Labor and Education, which make up the lion’s share of total government spending.
Six Republicans, Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), David Perdue (Ga.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.), joined Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in voting against the bill, which also includes a short-term stopgap bill to fund the rest of the government through Dec. 7 and prevent a shutdown that would start Oct. 1.
Passage of the sweeping package of defense and domestic spending marks a significant victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who has dedicated weeks of floor time to government funding and avoiding another catch-all omnibus bill less than two months before the midterm election, where control of Congress hangs in the balance.
It’s the first time the Senate has approved funding for Labor, HHS or Education outside an omnibus bill since 2007, though even then the package was not completed on time. The bills normally get bogged down by fights over partisan riders, but Senate negotiators agreed early on to avoid attaching them to their legislation and were able to keep them out of the final House-Senate version of the minibus.
“These milestones may sound like inside baseball, but what they signify is a Senate that is getting its appropriations process back on track; a Senate that is attending to vital priorities for our country,” McConnell said.
Despite containing only two appropriations bills, the package represents roughly two-thirds of Congress’s 2019 spending. Of the $854 billion, $785 billion fell under agreed-upon budget caps, and the rest came from off-budget funds such as Overseas Contingency Operations.
It includes provisions for military pay raises, defense research, increases for Pell grants and the National Institute of Health, and workforce development training, among others.
The House is out this week but expected to take up the funding legislation next week, ahead of the September 30th deadline to keep the government funded.