Congressional Budget Squabble Shuts Down Most Tech-Oriented Agencies

By Wayne Rash  |  Print this article Print

NEWS ANALYSIS: Most federal agencies that support science and technology were either shut down or running at reduced levels on Oct. 1 due to the congressional budget deadlock.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology Website is reporting that the agency is closed due to the "lapse in government funding." NIST, meanwhile, will keep the Internet Time Service running, along with the National Vulnerability Database.

Meanwhile, NASA provides no information in regard to its ongoing operations. One wonders if U.S. astronauts are being furloughed, and if so, will they be required to leave the Space Station and return home? I sent an email to several NASA public affairs officers, but only found out that they'd been furloughed.

The effect on the technology industry isn't completely clear. If Congress gets its act together and finds a way to end the shutdown in a few days, there will probably be very little impact. Very few of the agencies' operations are necessary on a minute-by-minute basis.

If the shutdown goes on for more than a few days, however, there could be problems. The FCC has dozens of operations under way at any given time and, in the case of a few such as approving license transfers, the effects could be far-reaching. The same is true of the important work at NIST, which has a lot more going on than just managing the network time protocol.

But never fear, some of the activities we know and love will continue. Patent trolls will still be able to file their abusive and frequently bogus business process patents, for example. But now, with  the Federal Trade Commission closed, it won't be able to do anything to curtail their activities. Even if the FTC has already filed a complaint about their activities, the Department of Justice is also closed, so there is nobody around to bring any enforcement action.

While the law enforcement functions of the DoJ will continue to operate and the federal courts will remain open for the time being, the critical prosecutorial link that brings the bad guys to justice may not be.

The result of this congressional infighting is that your business will get no help from the FCC in expanding your wireless data needs. There is no one at NIST to work on new technical standards. And if you need to update your passport to conduct business in Europe or Asia, you're out of luck.

But at least for the time being, the troops are being paid, and the law enforcement and intelligence agencies are on duty to keep criminals, terrorists and global adversaries at bay. Although you have to wonder why those adversaries would bother attacking the U.S. right now. After all, it appears that we have a Congress that is intent on reducing the nation to third-world status all on its own.