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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