Cover: Operating Under a Continuing Resolution

Operating Under a Continuing Resolution

A Limited Assessment of Effects on Defense Procurement Contract Awards

Published Jan 21, 2019

by Stephanie Young, J. Michael Gilmore


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Research Questions

  1. What are widely cited adverse consequences of a CR on DoD operations?
  2. How can consequences of operating under a CR be analyzed empirically?
  3. Is operating under a continuing resolution associated with delays or increased costs for DoD weapon procurement?

As described in this report, the authors explored that operating under continuing resolutions (CRs) at the beginning of a fiscal year (FY), which has become the norm for the past several years, has led to delays and increased costs in U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) weapon procurement. Purportedly, operating under a CR causes these effects by constraining initiation of activities not previously approved and funded. The authors used data drawn from successive President's budget submissions to compare projected and realized award dates and unit costs for 151 procurement awards that DoD made for FYs 2013 through 2015, which had the two longest CRs in recent history. They also compared outcomes of procurement awards originally projected for FY 1999, which had only three weeks under CRs, with those for FYs 2013 through 2015. A qualitative analysis comparing anticipated and actual results of procurement awards about which DoD staff had expressed specific concern in light of CRs yielded mixed results but did not provide strong evidence that CRs are causing delays or cost increases. However, the limited approach also did not provide definitive evidence for a lack of their occurrence. The results of this analysis should therefore not be interpreted as finding that concerns about operating under a CR are misplaced. Rather, to facilitate appropriate policy responses, the analysis should be considered a first, limited step toward developing an empirical basis for assessing the consequences of operating under a CR.

Key Findings

Operating under a CR for a substantial period at the beginning of a fiscal year is widely cited as introducing a wide range of management challenges, but few attempts have been made to subject assertions to empirical analysis

  • The authors developed an empirical approach for assessing one widely cited consequence: delays and cost increases for weapon system procurement.

Preliminary analysis does not provide strong evidence that continuing resolutions are associated with delay or increased costs in DoD weapon procurement

  • Overall, the results of the analysis do not provide strong evidence that CRs are associated with delays in weapon procurement awards or increased costs. This includes selected specific instances the analysts examined in which DoD explicitly expressed concerns that these effects would result.

This analysis should not be interpreted as a finding that concerns over operating under a CR are misplaced; more analysis is necessary

  • The empirical approach focused only on delays and cost increases for weapon system procurement, only one of numerous widely cited effects of operating under a CR.
  • The analysis should be considered a first, limited step in analyzing the consequences of operating under a CR; additional analysis will support a clearer articulation of challenges and potential policy responses to mitigate them.


  • More quantitative data would make future empirical analyses more accurate and revealing.
  • More analysis using these data can help determine the validity of concerns about CRs and lay the foundation for more-effective policy actions to mitigate risks.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Acquisition Resources and Analysis Directorate and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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