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.

When the U.S. House of Representatives killed any chance of a budget compromise on Oct. 1, a number of federal agencies shut down with no indication as to when they might resume operations. But a few agencies found ways to stay open.

NASA's regular Website home page was offline on Oct. 1. Instead visitors were redirected to the generic usa.gov site, which tells you the agency has shut down operations. You get a similar message at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Website for the Federal Communications Commission is still running, but it tells you that all but a handful of people have been furloughed and sent home.

Naturally, however, some critical agencies remain in operation. The National Security Agency has kept the lights on, although the agency has stopped updating its Website. A spokesperson for the NSA told eWEEK that the intelligence community is still operational. A separate visit to the Website for the Director of National Intelligence reveals that the agency is only partly operational.

A DNI spokesperson told eWEEK, "The Intelligence Community's ability to identify threats and provide information for a broad set of national security decisions will be diminished for the duration. The immediate and significant reduction in employees on the job means that we will assume greater risk and our ability to support emerging intelligence requirements will be curtailed. The less than 30 percent of Intelligence Community employees who remain on the job will be stretched to the limit and forced to focus only on the most critical security needs."

However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, interestingly, is still open and running as if nothing had ever happened.

So how is it that some agencies important to the IT industry have effectively gone offline, while others seem to be unaffected? Unfortunately, there's no simple answer. The USPTO, for example, is established in the U.S. Constitution and has its own funding that doesn't depend on annual congressional appropriations to the extent that some others do.

But that funding won't last forever. And if the budget deadlock remains in force for more than a few weeks, the USPTO will cease most operations along with the rest of the Department of Commerce as part of a Shutdown Plan that went into effect in September.

The FCC has a similar Shutdown Plan, except that it went into effect on Oct. 1 because that agency does not have its own funding, so most operations ceased after a 4-hour period in which employees turned off the lights. The operations at the FCC that will continue include the acting chairwoman and two other commissioners, as well as some operations that are involved in emergency operations. At the FCC, a number of employees can be called back to work on an "as needed" basis.