This week’s federal government shutdown won’t seriously damage government information technology operations in the short term, provided it doesn’t last more than a week or so, industry watchers say.
In the longer-term, however, extended furloughs for non-essential employees will further depress the federal technology workforce and dissuade top graduates from seeking government jobs, they said. That's especially true if, as many expect, Congress declines to pay those workers for the time lost through no fault of their own.
And if the shutdown lasts long enough to melt into the debate over raising the federal debt ceiling and damages the U.S. government’s credit rating, that will have catastrophic effects throughout government, in IT and elsewhere, they said.
“If this is settled in a matter of days, the websites will spring back to life, people will start to text and email again and business will return to normal,” said Alan Balutis, former Commerce Department chief information officer. “If this lasts a week or two, begins to bump up against the debt ceiling and undermines the financial reputation and stability of the U.S., if it has effects on interest rates, that just dwarfs any effects on IT to the point they’re hardly worth talking about.”
Most IT vendors won’t be immediately affected by the shutdown because most contractors receive monthly or quarterly payments that aren’t affected by a lapse of a few days, according to an analysis by the information technology group IDC posted Tuesday.
“But if the shutdown drags on, defense contractors, especially IT systems integrators, could feel the pinch,” Research Director Shawn McCarthy wrote. “Many receive a high percentage of their business from the federal contracts.”
Many IT systems run by non-essential government employees who are furloughed are still running but might be shut down if they begin to malfunction and there’s no one around to fix them, McCarthy said.
Most government websites have either been shut down or are not being updated and the government has stopped updating most of its social media profiles.
In the longer term, the shutdown and furloughs are likely to further depress an already demoralized IT workforce, Balutis said.
“It really is a depressing thought that government presents today,” he said. “If you’re coming out of college and looking at where you might go to work, you’re less likely to take a job where you’re often underpaid to begin with, where you have little hope of getting a pay increase or bonus for good work and where there’s little investment in training and the board of directors that oversees your organization is constantly demeaning you.”
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