White House says critical websites won't be affected by shutdown

Confusion remains over which sites are vital and who are the 'essential' employees required to keep them operating.

This story has been updated.

In the event of a government shutdown, federal websites "would remain operational" if they are deemed "necessary to avoid significant damage to the execution of authorized or accepted activities," a White House official told Nextgov in an email message late Wednesday.

Websites deemed critical would keep operating even if the cost of doing so comes from appropriations that have lapsed, she said.

After days of confusion, the fate of federal websites in the event of a government shutdown became a bit clearer as senior Obama administration officials scrambled to prepare for the possibility that the federal government will run out of money at midnight on Friday.

In 1996, the last time Congress failed to pass a budget, forcing a shutdown, agencies' online presence and dependence on the Web was minimal. Today, virtually every government agency has a website, if not several websites, and many use them to conduct mission-related business with the public. Most are packed with news and information and some enable citizens to ask questions and conduct transactions, such as applying for Social Security benefits, participating in federal drug trials, or reporting suspicious activity in an age of terrorism.

One website likely to keep operating despite a shutdown is IRS.gov, which "may be necessary to allow for tax filings and tax collection, which are activities that continue during an appropriations lapse," the official said.

The U.S. Postal Service also is expected to keep its website up and running despite a shutdown. Since USPS is no longer funded by Congress, its site won't be affected, said spokesman Greg Frey.

At the Department of Health and Human Services, an official said Thursday afternoon that decisions about agency websites remain in flux. "Our plans are truly not final yet," he said, but it is likely that HHS websites will be updated less often.

Some web services may run more slowly. "Services for beneficiaries, such as 1-800 Medicare, the "Medicare and You" handbook, could be limited, with longer hold and wait times," he said.

During the shutdown, HHS websites that handle Medicare and Medicaid matters "would be unable to process system corrections in beneficiary records, potentially jeopardizing beneficiaries' access to care."

Also, HHS "may be forced to disable the Online Enrollment Center for Medicare's private plans, meaning beneficiaries would have to directly contact health plans to enroll," the official said. And the agency "would be unable to respond to requests for assistance regarding beneficiary issues that come through States and Partner Organizations."

The Veterans Affairs Department website also will be kept functioning. A list of steps VA will take during a shutdown included this advice to veterans, "Keep monitoring VA's website for additional information, including frequently asked questions and correspondence from the leadership team."

For the duration of a shutdown, agency-operated websites that are not judged to be critical "would not remain active," the official said. That doesn't mean they will necessarily vanish from the Internet. Rather, if they remain available, the information on them might not be up to date, and transactions submitted to agencies through the sites might not be processed until the shutdown ends. Similarly, agency officials aren't likely to respond to inquiries submitted through websites until Congress passes a budget, the official said.

As of Thursday evening, the Commerce Department was planning to close five of its websites and keep two open, a department official said. Decisions on other sites were still pending, an agency spokesman said.

Sites to be closed include the International Trade Administration, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Economics and Statistics Administration, the Economic Development Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The National Weather Service website will continue to operate, and the Patent and Trademark Office will operate for the first six days of a shutdown, the Commerce official said. PTO has six days worth of money left from the 2010 budget, he said. After that, if the shutdown continues, the PTO website will shut down.

Visitors to Commerce Department sites will probably be redirected to a page telling them that the websites are have been closed by the government shutdown, he said.

Gregg Bailey, a former chief information officer at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said, "The key will be what does the website do and how much work will it take to keep it running." Agencies with websites that handle transactions, for example, might want to shut the websites down so that work that can't be completed doesn't pile up, he said.

Informative, but non-essential websites, such as USASpending.gov, ITDashboard.gov and Data.gov are likely candidates for being shut down, he said. They provide transparency and visibility into government operations, so "if they're shut down, it will be more difficult to see what the government is doing," he said. "But on the other hand, if the government is shut down, it won't be doing much."

Agencies are expected to post notices on their Web home pages about which online features will work and which won't during the shutdown.

For the duration of a shutdown, support for websites and other information technology systems "will be the minimum necessary to maintain functionality and ensure the security and integrity of the system during a funding lapse," the official said.

It will be up to each agency to determine whether website employees are essential and thus exempt from the shutdown, she said.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.