After the shutdown battle: What now?

The battle ended in a draw, but more fights lie ahead

The news late Friday that Congress had forestalled a shutdown of the federal government provoked a huge sigh of relief, especially from federal employees who had worried about losing pay for the duration. But the drama isn't over yet: Although Democrats and Republicans said they had reached an agreement on a bill to fund the remainder of fiscal 2011, they still must pass it and the president must sign it.

Congress passed another short-term measure to keep things running for this week, but if the longer-term budget runs into problems, the threat will return.

So for now, the government is still on edge, with catastrophe postponed briefly but the final resolution still pending. As Congress neared passage of the latest continuing resolution, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew issued a directive to agencies to continue operating normally.

In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times rhetorically asked whether the deal could still be derailed. "In theory yes, but in reality, it's very unlikely," the editorial concluded. "The leaders seem to have the votes to pass the compromise, but there is sure to be some drama in order to make  political points. Some lawmakers will dissent from the compromise either because they feel it didn’t go far enough in cutting spending or it went too far in cutting needed programs."

Stephen Stromberg, writing in the Washington Post, pointed out that more battles are coming: whether to raise the debt ceiling, and probably more importantly for people who would be affected by a shutdown, the 2012 budget.

"But we aren’t necessarily through with shutdown scares this year, and Friday's deal may make them more likely," Stromberg wrote."It absolves the brinksmanship that led to it, rewarding Republican leaders for saying no until the last minute with more spending cuts than Democrats said they were willing to approve. It has fueled a nasty back-and-forth between the parties that encourages mistrust. These factors, combined with the fact that the speaker will have to convince his Tea Party wing to swallow the deal by promising bigger fights in the future, could make this sort of behavior more probable later, when the stakes are higher."

So federal employees are justified to be relieved by the latest news, but should brace themselves for more.

"Historians call the beginning of World War II 'The Phony War,'" wrote Matthew Cooper in the National Journal. "After the Nazis invaded Poland in September of 1939, Great Britain and her allies declared war on Germany. But their armies didn’t really clash until May 1940. ... What we’ve just seen is a phony war in Washington, a quibble over a few billion that presages the fight over trillions."

For now, government continues to operate normally, and all signs suggest that by later this week things will be secure for the rest of the fiscal year. But that's only slightly more than five months. What happens then is anybody's guess.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Tue, Apr 12, 2011

What now? Sadly, back to business as usual. Fed Gov BADLY needs a clean-sheet-of-paper reorg, like they tried to do right after WWII, and only partially succeeded with. But the hurry-up job they did setting up DHS was such a fubar, that they are convinced no reorg is possible.

Mon, Apr 11, 2011

The issue will always be: HOW (to balance the budget), WHAT (programs to reduce/eliminate), WHO (will bear the pain). Ironically, we voted for those now holding us hostage because we all agreed our federal fiscal process (collecting, budgeting and spending ways) required change. We still feel this -- as long as we are "personally" detached from the HOW, WHAT, and WHO. But we can never be detached, because we will be impacted in some form or other -- it's that "circle of life" thing. So, now we "baby boomers" are transitioning from the active workforce,and (the disruption that has happened every time we transitioned phase to phase)we are causing a sunami in the next phase of life -- retirement. Who do we think are/will be receiving those "entitlements"??????

Mon, Apr 11, 2011 shane

what we need is a debt curve that has a significant downward trend by 2021, institutionalized, with an annual deficit that trends to zero by 2016, institutionalized. Is it possible to obtain both with reasonable economics? Let's get special interests out of the feeding troughs for the next 5 years.

Mon, Apr 11, 2011

Sadly I agree with the last poster, heck if we start charging money for those folding chairs we might actually be able to say this session of congress helped contribute something. Really the only way we'll be able to prevent this kind of thing is by showing all of them our discontent through voting and through polls, if they get the idea that we won't tolerate this kind of delay with either party I'm sure they will come to a resolution much faster.

Mon, Apr 11, 2011 Vienna

Folks, isn't sad that it takes the threat of a government shutdown to actually get Congress to cut spending? The fact is that spending cannot go up indefinitely and maintaining spending at current levels is also not tenable. The Republicans should not be vilified for dealing with reality. Also, consider this: the hullabaloo about Planned Parenthood and environmental spending was never really important to Boehner; it was simply a way to give Reid and Obama a face-saving way to get to a deal.

Show All Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above