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The Not-so-Lame Duck Session Meant More Bang at Start of 2011

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Photo: Jack Moore

So, it’s another year. You’re back in the office and, soon, a new Congress will get back to work too, taking up all the issues it left on the table before it broke for the holiday recess.

And, while there are still a lot of issues to cover, Congress actually did its homework early for once.

The lame-duck session of Congress, the period following the November elections but before new legislators have been seated, is often, as the name implies, sort of lame.

Not much can get done because of partisan wrangling and bickering. Some think it only fair that on the big issues, Congress wait for the recently elected group of lawmakers to take its seats before it considers major legislation.

But, this year was simply not the case. Say what you will about 2010, but it did not go quietly into the night.

Former Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis, who is also a well-known figure giant in the world of government-contracting agreed.
“Most lame ducks end up being exactly that — lame ducks; they kind of limp out of town,” he told FoxNews.com. “A punt and everybody goes home.”

The twists and turns of continuing resolutions and omnibus spending bills provided one of the lame-duck session’s main stories.

A $1 trillion omnibus spending bill, which attempted to set across-the-board budgets for the federal government went down in flames relatively late in the process because critics contended it was full of wasteful “pork” spending.

But, government funding came back from the dead in the form of a continuing resolution, providing funds through March 4, 2011. The CR is actually $1.16 billion more than fiscal-year 2010 levels, which allowed some projects to escape being disrupted.

However, the CR was not a panacea, and many observers speculate the budget uncertainties will continue well into next year.

Continuing resolutions often cause headaches for government contractors and anyone else doing business with the feds. In an ExecutiveGov interview in the fall, Shiv Krishnan, chairman and CEO of Indus Corp., said the lack of an official budget and the disjointed funding process can “put a lot of restrictions on and damper the industry.”

Another notable turn of events was the compromise on the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at the end of 2010. In a bid for compromise between Democrats and Republicans, Congress voted to extend the current tax rate as well as unemployment benefits, which were also set to expire.

This very (un)lame-duck session of Congress carries implications across the government, including the Defense Department.

Congress ended “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the 17-year-old ban on gay troops in the U.S. military, following an extensive DoD review and some political theater.

The START nuclear arms agreement with Russia was also approved, bypassing the political fireworks some had predicted.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said there were “legitimate concerns” from some lawmakers about the treaty’s effect on U.S. missile defense “but frankly, I think they’ve been addressed,” he added.

For congressional and defense observers, the passage of a stripped-down defense appropriations bill, “uncharacteristically unladen with controversial, often non-defense related provisions,” as ExecutiveGov reported at the time, was one holiday surprise.

The stripping out of controversial passages was designed to speed passage.

Other provisions of note:

However, while Congress was certainly a busy bees’ nest the past month, there are, obviously, some provisions that ended up on the cutting room floor.

One of them was a comprehensive cybersecurity bill, which had made waves especially in a breakout year for cybersecurity in terms of WikiLeaks, Stuxnet and Operation Aurora.

In a November interview with GovInfoSecurity, Tom Davis said he didn’t think Congress would pass a cybersecurity bill because of some “radioactive provisions” in the proposed bills that wouldn’t garner enough bipartisan support for passage.

Cybersecurity guru and former White House adviser Melissa Hathaway had implored Congress to take up a cyber bill in the lame duck, however those efforts fell short, as the final version of the defense appropriations bill passed by Congress omitted a measure establishing a National Office of Cyberspace in the White House, Nextgov reported.

For good or for ill, Congress got a lot done in the last few months of 2010, and it all meant 2011 started with a bit more of a bang than usual.

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