Guest opinion: Alabama companies doing the shut-down shuffle

There are thousands of people across Alabama who are affected by the threat of a shutdown on January 19, 2024. Big companies are scrambling to deal with the threat.

Nancy Langer

Does the date January 19, 2024, mean anything to you?

With the holidays quickly approaching, for most people this date means nothing. But for those who work as a military service member, an employee or a contractor for the federal government, there is no forgetting this date.

It’s the date of the next potential government shutdown.

In the past, if you were in the military or worked for the government as an employee or a contractor you felt you had job security. Sure, maybe you weren’t paid as much as someone working in the commercial space, but you could be proud of the work you did, with greater peace of mind.

Uncle Sam always paid. No more.

There are literally thousands of people across Alabama who are affected by the threat of a shutdown on January 19, 2024. According to Mike Ward at the Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce, “about a third of our local economy comes from federal spending.”

So, on January 19th a third of the local economy could hit a wall. If you’re not concerned, you aren’t paying attention.

Big companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon – known in the industry as the “primes” – are scrambling to deal with the threat.

Small businesses, doing everything from designing lunar landing pads, upgrading cyber defenses, or cleaning Army barracks, are affected.

Even nonprofits like Still Serving Vets in Huntsville, which relies on government contracts to pay staff that deliver job placement services for veterans, are threatened.

All of these players who rely on government contracts have been doing “shut down planning” for months.

What is shutdown planning?

When the threat of a government shutdown looms, these companies shift some of their focus from the work that supports government entities like NASA, the DoD, Homeland Security, and others to figure out how to triage their business if the government stops paying on January 19th.

For some businesses, this could mean job cuts and project delays. In fact, some companies have scores of people dedicated to shutdown planning.

The last shutdown, under the Trump Administration, went on for 34 days and was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to cost the American economy at least $11 billion USD. Some people don’t get paid or lost their jobs completely. Some small businesses risked going out of business.

A window into how challenging it is to have the federal government as a customer: the number of companies offering the government services and products has shrunk by an astounding 40 percent in the last 10 years.

Now as we approach January 19, 2024, with no clear plan in sight, we heap additional challenges onto our service members, onto our military families, onto government employees, and government contractors. In addition, we risk that the defense industrial base will decline.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III recently said, “for far too long, it’s been far too hard for innovators and entrepreneurs to work with the department.”

Shutdown planning adds a dangerous burden and risk to Alabama’s families and economy – disrupting the lives of people in the state and degrading our national security.

Congress must avert a government shutdown before January 19, 2024, and restore sanity to the appropriations process so that “shutdown planning” goes away forever.

What a gift that would be.

Nancy Langer is the President of sbLiftOff, a national mergers and acquisitions advisory firm, specializing in commercial and government contracting companies. She serves on the board of the National Veterans Small Business Coalition, a nonprofit serving veterans who own government contracting firms.