From the Editor: Ho-hum. We’ve seen this brinksmanship before — or have we?

July 31, 2011

When you have lived in Washington as long as I have, you tend to be blase about all this Capitol Hill brinkmanship.

How many times have we been threatened with government shutdowns and economic catastrophes when it comes to debt ceilings and budget talks?

It is a dangerous thing to cry wolf, as any schoolchild can tell you. People stop listening.

This time, however, it doesn’t really matter if there is a wolf at the door. Whatever the outcome, it appears greater Washington’s immunity to the country’s larger economic realities is about to end.

Government spending will slow, one way or another.

Lockheed Martin has been warning us for months. It recently announced another round of buyouts, targeting 6,500 workers throughout the company, including some 2,000 here in the Washington area, as it moves to “right-size” its workforce ahead of the inevitable budget reductions.

And still, some government contractors choose to ignore the signs.

After all, lawmakers are always making noise about contracting reforms and budget cuts, right? Just ignore it, my contracting friends tell me. The rate of increase might slow, but the bottom line will still grow. The cybersecurity industry is booming. Information technology needs have never been greater. Look, we’re still hiring!

Privately, though, the doubts are sinking in. Staff writer Marjorie Censer reported last week that many in the defense industry are beginning to ponder their futures as it becomes clear something has to give when it comes to federal spending.

“The apprehension in the sector is generalized right now — nobody really feels like they’re safe,” Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant at the Lexington Institute, told Censer. “As a consequence, people across the industry are examining their options and considering what they might do instead of their current jobs.”

That’s no easy exercise. In a wobbly economy like ours, alternatives are not always easy to come by.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade held a forum last week to discuss possible outcomes from the fight over the nation’s debt. None seemed to leave the area better off than it was before.

Then again. Ho-hum. We’ve heard that before.

If only we were listening now.

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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