Did you wonder what would happen to federal IT operations if there was a “shutdown”?

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) seemed reluctant to provide specifics. A shut-off of funding would have meant a clamp-down on operations—but not a full discontinuation, of course.

It’s something like austerity funding plans that allowed school districts to operate even though no budget had been approved, back when the public got to vote on those budgets (or that still do govern spending, in places where there still is an up-or-down vote on the annual school district spending plan). Essential programs must still be provided. Non-essentials are gone, until such time as the public, or in the instant case the Congress, approves a budget.

School systems operating under austerity might not have co-curricular activities (including sports), cafeterias or transportation. What would the nation lack?

As to IT, OMB says the Antideficiency Act says each IT service would have to meet the exception criteria. For any that didn’t, those activities would be halted and the personnel involved would be among the 800,000 federal employees who would experience temporary lay-offs.

Agencies would not be allowed to “incur obligations for activities without appropriations,” which goes beyond the idea that pay checks would not be issued during the hiatus between spending appropriations.

And it wouldn’t just be direct employees. IT contractors would not be allowed to do business with the government.

So the burning question was what expenditures and activities and services and programs would be “excepted.”

Exceptions would be activities necessary for safety of life and protection of property. So military operations dealing with those matters would be excepted; on the civilian side, law enforcement and fire protection would go on.

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IT system that would be needed to keep excepted activities operational could stay up. An IT system too tightly integrated with essential ones to allow its shut-down would also stay up, as a matter of necessity, but no non-excepted and separable operations of that IT system would be supported, provisioned or staffed.

FEMA would have to continue responding to flood and tornado disasters that occurred during the unfunded period, but many FEMA operations would
not continue, and the IT involved would be out of order or off limits, for all practical purposes.

Much IT maintenance would be suspended. Preservation of data and functionality would be allowed, though. Where a shut-down would affect
security, that shut-down was not to occur. Where a shut-down would allow damage to back-end systems, ditto.

How about federal agencies’ websites? The public “relies” on being able to access those sites, for information and so on. Hey, we are anxious to e-file our tax returns!

Sorry, Charlie, that’s not essential. Required, important, but not essential within the meaning of the Antideficiency Act. Maintenance would be continued, to prevent loss of data, security and functionality. The Treasury Department (of which IRS is a part) said there would be no processing of tax returns during a funding gap.

NASA would not provide online television and its website would be down. But IT support of tracking and other operations related to the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle would be deemed essential, and excepted.

US-DOT would operate communications services to transfer security data, but would suspend NextGen air traffic control development and testing. Air traffic control would be continued.

Both direct and contracted operations of the Department of Defense would continue so long as those operations met the definitions applied to other agencies, as to being essential. Security and military or military support ops in Iraq and Afghanistan, essential health care in DOD medical facilities and financial management activities necessary for control and accountability would still have their IT up and sunning.

Government operations at every level have become IT dependent. Pull the plug on IT and government would be hampered. The fiscal brinksmanship practiced by the Congress reminded us of that.