Government Shutdown

How to come back

power button on computer

With federal employees returning to their jobs, it won't be business as usual for most senior IT workers, at least for a while.

"It's going to be a matter of unburying inboxes," said Chris Smith, former CIO at the Department of Agriculture and now program chair for the American Council for Technology Industry Advisory Council's upcoming technology innovation showcase. Federal IT managers, he said, "are obviously going to be busy" in the days and weeks after the government reopens.

First things first, however, advised Van Hitch, senior advisor at Deloitte Consulting and former long-time CIO at the Department of Justice. "I wouldn't immediately dig into my inbox. I'd send out an email to employees welcoming them back and ask if anything is screaming for executive attention."

The return poses some initial, as well as longer-term, challenges for IT managers, said Hitch and Smith. A smooth immediate return to IT operations depends on how much time and effort managers put into preparing to leave for the mandated break. "Hopefully [federal IT managers] had an opportunity to shut down in an efficient manner. It was a rapid shutdown. If it wasn't a graceful process, the bigger the problems could be in coming back," said Smith.

Hitch recommended top IT managers immediately sit down with their scheduling personnel and make a list of quick meetings with IT operational and planning personnel to establish a prioritized to-do list. Security, he said, should be at or near the top of that list.

He said the danger of cyberattack could rise in the initial days of employees' return as networks are again opened for business with security patches that might not be up-to-date. "Patching could be behind. You have to figure out the risk, find out about incidents and track patch status," he said. "The period of vulnerability could last for weeks" after the shutdown ends.

Be on the alert for cyberattacks and intrusions during the period, he warned.

Specifics facing returning IT managers can vary widely.

Big data collection and operations continued at some agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Big data operations have been made a bit less stressful because of virtualization and cloud management, according to Christian Heiter, chief technology officer at Hitachi Data Systems Federal. Heiter said the capabilities will allow federal IT managers to restore services and capabilities in a more efficient manner than the last shut-down in the 1990s. Cloud storage and virtualization capabilities, he said, allow quicker and more comprehensive recovery efforts -- provided agencies had good relationships and agreements with cloud providers going into the shutdown.

"It's going to vary from agency to agency as to how they fared," he said. At agencies that were forced to scale back dramatically, the effects and aftermath of the shutdown would be more pronounced, he said.

Hitch said that a smooth return depends greatly on whether IT managers prioritized their operational responsibilities before they left. Managers, he said, should have thought about their missions before leaving and taken steps to make the eventual return easier. Upon return, they should make a checklist of upcoming deadlines and deliverables they are responsible for.

At other agencies, corrupted databases and interface queuing issues could greet some IT managers, Smith said.

Most, though, should not face any sizable difficulties beyond the sheer volume of catch-up work.

The key is patience. "You can't do everything at one time," Smith said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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Reader comments

Wed, Oct 23, 2013

I was talking to some of the Govenment workers next door coming back from furlough, their comment was "thank goodness the contractors were still working during the furlough, so the systems are still working and we do not have a mountain of backlog to process through".

Tue, Oct 22, 2013 RayW

In many different articles I keep seeing comment posters say contractors are on furlough. All the contractors I know of here (half of our building of 900 people are contractors) and in other facilities in the area were still working because of the contract. I wonder what type of contract the supposed furloughed contractors were on that they could be canned? Temporary with a "terminate as needed" clause?

Fri, Oct 18, 2013

Plus many of the contractor personnel are still on furlough waiting the approval from contracting officers to come back to work. Without the contractors many critical IT functions are not being performed. They are still collecting unemployment insurance.

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