Critical Read

Gumming up government, but only for a while

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WHAT: A report from the Government Accountability Office about the impact of the shutdown on government operations.

WHY: The October 2013 government shutdown lasted only 16 days, but its impact was felt months afterward in government operations, according to a GAO report that looked at activities at the departments of Health and Human Services, Transportation  Energy. While the report suggested that long-term impact of the shutdown appears minimal, it's clear that from the point of view of agencies, the shutdown lasted longer than the official duration, because of the way agency efforts were focused on winding down activities in preparation for the shutdown and spinning them back up when the budget standoff was resolved. Contingency planning and prior experience managing through periods of funding uncertainty helped officials navigate the crisis.

Special challenges were experienced in grants management and contracting, which were subject to being knocked off schedule by time lost to the shutdown. Operations at the DOT's Federal Transit Administration were suspended by the shutdown, but it turns out that the impact was minimized by the fact that operations were offline for end of fiscal year accounting. The National Institutes of Health had to delay processing for more than 13,000 grant applications, and didn't catch up until January 2014. There were some unexpected lessons learned from the shutdown. For instance, NIH had to bring back furloughed mailroom employees to make sure that bills were delivered to officials for payment.

Verbatim: "The effects of the shutdown on federal grant recipients varied based on the timing of milestones and the availability of funding. ... [I]is difficult to determine the exact impact of a federal government shutdown on grant recipients because the impact will vary depending on the current stage of each individual grant award at the time of the shutdown and the duration of the shutdown. Additionally, the impact may vary within a grant program and across programs and agencies. The timing of milestones was a key factor for both federal grant applicants and grant recipients because of the resulting effects on the review process timeline for grant applications and the availability of funds for current grant recipients. Officials from associations with expertise in grants that we interviewed said that grant recipients with funding available during the shutdown reported to the associations that there were minimal effects from the shutdown."

Full report: Read the report here.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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