Shutdown would highlight government's IT dependence, experts say

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

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

Federal IT managers – like most managers in government – are right now 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 in Homeland Security and the Defense Department.

Back-office systems and customer-facing websites, such as, are examples of non-essential IT that could stop running during a shutdown, said Paul Littmann, a principal in Deloitte’s federal technology practice. A number of IT programs being completed by contractors – depending on their funding sources – would also have to stop during a shutdown. (For more details on how the shutdown could affect federal websites, click here for a related article.)

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One of the key 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.

Back 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 noted that the government relies on IT from an application development perspective, a citizen perspective and a day-to-day 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 echoed that what a government shutdown would highlight is the importance of IT to the government. He added that agency leaders and members of Congress should realize the importance of consistent and known funding for CIOs.

Because Congress has not passed a budget for fiscal 2011, it has been difficult for CIOs to do upgrades or kick off new programs to replace old systems, and has, overall, impacted their abilities 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 Fed Up

Apparently most people are unaware that due to the lack of any budget for FY'11, many IT projects have been postponed, creating serious exposures and leaving agencies without the proper tools to protect their networks and systems. I don't understand why were are willing to pay our Congresspeople for NOT doing their job. Many critical programs have lost an entire year, which puts them even further behind the curve than they already were.

Fri, Apr 8, 2011

"not only what happens when something breaks, but what happens when someone breaks in?" My thought to... both physical security and network ID, etc. And our building will have Grantees still working in it without IT support.

Fri, Apr 8, 2011 Jon

Very interesting points Alyah – many I think map back to the concept of IT efficiency, or the lack thereof.

Yes, “many functions have been automated since the last shutdown in the mid-1990s,” but IT managers are often too focused on deploying the latest and greatest innovation to truly realize the full value of their existing IT infrastructure. This has created an endemic of waste in most IT environments – ranging from an array of unused software and servers, to costly power sucking PCs.

In fact, my company’s (1E) recent federal agency survey found that while federal IT managers focus on consolidating hardware, they are missing key opportunities to cut costs and improve efficiency. For example, an astounding 87 percent of federal agencies aren’t completely ready to comply with federal energy reduction mandates. Meanwhile, energy and server efficiency solutions could save these agencies $6 Billion over the next five years.

Even if the anticipated government shutdown at midnight tonight doesn’t materialize, federal IT managers need to rethink their IT priorities and processes. By determining if hardware is actually doing something useful, what software is being used, what energy is being spent on IT, which tasks can be automated or centralized, etc., they can save millions of dollars by creating true IT efficiencies and dramatically reducing energy consumption. If they fail to do so, IT becomes a bigger part of the budget problem rather than helping to find a viable solution.

Fri, Apr 8, 2011

not only what happens when something breaks, but what happens when someone breaks in?

Fri, Apr 8, 2011

The idea that systems will continue to run during a furlough is wrong. The administration will tend to "pull the plug" - especially on websites - to make the public feel the impact of the closure.

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