The major news in the federal contracting sphere this week—and it has been a busy news week—came when it was announced that President Donald Trump’s administration had frozen all contracting activity at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That doesn’t mean just new awards, it also means task orders and other activity as well. The top-down social media ban is what grabbed most of the headlines, but that strikes me as a smaller matter. As former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau said on his great podcast, “Pod Save America,” if a Bush appointee were subtweeting Obama in the early days, he would have wanted to put a stop to it.
But the contracting freeze, the grant freeze, and the requirement that EPA scientists run the publication of all scientific papers by Trump appointees is—if not a bridge too far—a pretty yuge bridge. On Wednesday, the Professional Services Council wrote a letter to the EPA’s Acting Administrator Catherine McCabe, raising concerns over the freeze. In it, PSC President David Berteau wrote:
There may be good reasons for these steps, to align with the priorities of the new administration or to prevent scarce taxpayer dollars from going to initiatives that will not be continued. However, a blunt, across the board halt on contracting actions will disrupt core government operations, drive away hard-to-find workers, and may cost more to restart than it saves by stopping. In addition, our member companies will be hurt by any suspension of existing EPA contracts or delay in payments. Many companies depend on payments to stay in business. The EPA should be mindful of the adverse economic impact this will have on the business community – large, small and disadvantaged businesses alike. At a minimum, they need to plan for any disruption and its impact on their workers.
Certainly, the new administration has big changes in store for the EPA, and the talk at the moment those changes include massive budget and staffing cuts. That’s certainly the prerogative of a new administration, but as Berteau wrote in his letter, the impacts of this sort of freeze are wide-ranging, and the uncertainty bred by a move like that is all-encompassing. There’s a very good chance that the freeze ends up costing the government a lot of money as work is delayed and schedules slip. The new president has had no issues stirring the pot and taking decisive action in his first week in office, but shouldn’t leave the EPA dangling.