Shutdown would highlight government's IT dependence, experts say

Many functions have been automated since the last shutdown in the mid-1990s

It’s growing increasingly likely that the government will shutter at midnight April 8 because of a lack of funding, which means many crucial IT systems would come to a halt and leave the government in uncharted territory.

Federal IT managers — like most managers in government — are going through their employee rosters and deciding who is essential, according to experts. IT managers must further decide which IT systems would continue during a shutdown to protect safety of life or property, such as programs at the Homeland Security and the Defense departments.

Back-office systems and customer-facing websites, such as Data.gov, are examples of nonessential IT programs that could stop running during a shutdown, said Paul Littmann, a principal at Deloitte’s federal technology practice. Depending on their funding sources, a number of IT programs that contractors are completing would also need to stop during a shutdown. For more details on how the shutdown could affect federal websites, click here.


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One of the primary differences between a shutdown in 2011 and the previous shutdown that happened in the mid-1990s is how reliant on IT the government has become since then, a former government official said.

In 1996, the government spent a fraction of the billions it spends today on IT. “What we’re facing on Saturday morning will further illustrate our reliance on IT,” the former official said.

The government has automated a lot of functions with complex and sophisticated systems, and it now relies on IT from an application development perspective, public-facing perspective and daily operations perspective.

“Many, if not all, of those functions were supported on the periphery by IT” in 1996, the official said. “Now [they are] supported in their core by IT.”

Littmann agreed that a government shutdown would highlight the importance of IT to the government. He added that agency leaders and members of Congress should realize the importance of consistent funding for CIOs.

Because Congress has not passed a budget for fiscal 2011, it has been difficult for CIOs to initiate program upgrades or new programs that would replace old systems, which has hurt their ability to plan and execute, Littmann said.

About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

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Reader comments

Fri, Apr 8, 2011

While many systems would continue to operate just fine for a while, it is not safe to leave them unattended by someone who can make sure that backups run, and the power and airconditioning remain functional. Systems who's support personnel are not excepted will probably be shut down.

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