Government Shutdown

IT departments take shutdown hit

power button on computer

Many IT employees who shut down their computers on Sept. 30 haven't returned to power up. (Stock image)

Even though most agency shutdown contingency plans aren't specific about which employees will be furloughed, it's clear that the government shutdown is powering off many IT jobs.

Veterans Affairs is reporting that of its 14,000 furloughed employees (4 percent of its total workforce), 3,200 are IT employees,  40 percent of its IT staff. At Housing and Urban Development, the CIO is allowed to "maintain a minimum staff to maintain liaison with the contractors and headquarters and field personnel," according to its contingency plan.

At the Interior Department, "a small number of operational staff would be on duty or on call to coordinate or supervise firefighting, law enforcement, and emergency response and similar activities, to maintain communications and provide budget, financial, information technology, human resources, and contracting support."

Even though the Department of Energy was fully operational as of Thursday – it had not yet put its contingency plan into action -- that plan includes just seven excepted employees under the CIO, who would provide "support to portions of DOE that perform functions related to the safety of human life or the protection of property as well as protect property."

NASA has been the hardest hit agency in terms of overall employment, with 97 percent of its workers furloughed. HUD is close behind with 96 percent.

The Defense Department has deemed 86 percent of its workers as essential and therefore excepted from furlough, and is seeking to bring more back.

About the Author

Reid Davenport is an FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.

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Reader comments

Fri, Oct 4, 2013

On a national call at Veterans Affairs this morning several mid-level managers shared their decision to ask staff to volunteer to stay without pay. Argument ensued but in the end we agreed each person needs to do what they think is right. Some managers believe we should follow our leaders and take their instructions directly and at face value. Some managers believe our leadership is not well informed (I'm in this camp) and that the risk to patient safety has been underestimated. Although most technical staff are being allowed to stay there is a lot of pressure to force a reduction. My group has been organizing alternative coverage for our services: some staff will be available for call back as needed, others will be taking on greater responsibility, others working without pay. I wish our OI&T leadership was strong enough to take a stand to the effect: "If OI&T is being forced to shut down then VHA needs to shut down too." That VHA and OI&T are on separate appropriations is something that needs to be fixed in Congress; but do they know this is a problem?! VA OI&T's current leader, Stef Warren (Acting Assistant Secretary for OI&T), recently attended a meeting with VHA leadership wearing sandals and a suit. That kind of "cockiness" isn't going to get the attention of Congress but a strong statement might. I read your article and asked myself: would I have surgery at the VA during a furlough? Answer: Yes. I'd talk to my doctor about it but otherwise wouldn't worry. The surgeons I've worked with at the VA are incredible. If there was a risk they wouldn't operate. I might worry about an extended inpatient stay though. There are lots of checks on inpatient medications in the VA. Inpatients wrist bands are scanned before meds are given. The pharmacists, doctors, and nurses all look for drug/drug interactions and drug allergies and we have software that helps. Will that software be working? Will staff be communicating with each other? I trust the VA under normal conditions but during furlough...? I'm not confident, there are too many interacting components for the system to work well with some of the pieces missing. Health care today is complicated. VA has hundreds of thousands of patients and there are many teams of many doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and staff all working together to take care of them. Whether Congress, our VA leadership, or "anybody" likes it or not, computers (medical records, etc) are the "glue" that holds those teams together. If 40% of IT staff are gone are the lab techs and pharmacists going to be able to get to the data they need when looking for medication errors? Post discharge will that nurse remember to call and check on you? She was likely a wonderful sweetheart but she had 20 other patients and there were 5 other nurses. Please forgive her if she forgets, the reminder to call you was supposed to come from the computer.

Thu, Oct 3, 2013

The good news is the VA staff needed a break anyway. with the SES management we suffer, any form of a break is welcome from the tyranny of Acting CIO and the really incompetent staff he's surrounded himself with. Let's hope they're all gone when this is over.

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