Editor’s note: Finding something to like in sequestration

February 10, 2013

It took the chairman and chief executive of Herndon-based EADS North America, the U.S. arm of the European contracting giant, to remind me last week that the threat of sequestration is hardly our greatest preoccupation around Washington.

That honor would belong to traffic.

“An hour and a half from Ashburn is probably a record,” a late-arriving Sean O’Keefe told the assembled at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, where he was delivering the keynote at the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s “Titans” breakfast.

O’Keefe recalled how he and his wife once drove out to Northern Virginia hunt country on weekends, packing a lunch because it was so sparsely developed.

“Now we live there,” he said.

Crowded highways are a fact of life around here. So is federal budget paralysis, O’Keefe said, warming up to his real topic.

Congress has been lurching toward gridlock for some time now, he explained, even though the whole theory behind sequestration is that it is such a stupid idea “no one would ever use it.”

Except this time lawmakers might, for while it once was regarded as good politics to compromise, now it is considered good politics to not.

If there’s a silver lining in the impasse, it is that uncertainty has forced businesses to sit on their cash. There is now roughly $2 trillion piling up on corporate and individual balance sheets, and when that is eventually deployed, the effect could be “near historic in its enormity,” O’Keefe said.

The parent of his own company has socked away more than $17 billion.

There may be another blessing in disguise, he added. The government now seems earnest about structuring contracts in a way that simplifies the procurement process.

Finding something to like in sequestration might not be the “cheeriest thought,” O’Keefe said. But looking on the bright side is “maybe the product of having sat in a car for an hour and a half.”

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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