Most Federal National Security IT Considered ‘Essential,’ Industry Official Says

A reflection of the Department of Homeland Security logo is seen reflected in the glasses of a cyber security analyst.

A reflection of the Department of Homeland Security logo is seen reflected in the glasses of a cyber security analyst. Mark J. Terrill/AP File Photo

Some defense and law enforcement IT operations will continue amid shutdown.

Information technology programs that support national security, homeland security and law enforcement will be deemed essential during the government shutdown, a top executive of an industry trade group predicted.

Even with a shutdown, the government needs to protect and operate its networks, and federal workers who maintain those systems will stay on their jobs, said Trey Hodgkins, TechAmerica’s senior vice president of global public policy. 

Cybersecurity is essential to multiple agencies, and cyber operations will continue during the shutdown, he said. Law enforcement organizations, such as the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which among other things performs fingerprint matches for local police departments, should also be viewed as essential, Hodgkins said.

“I would be surprised if that was shuttered,” Hodkins said.  The Criminal Justice Information Services website was operating Tuesday, with no shutdown notice posted.

Deniece Peterson, director of federal industry analysis at a consulting firm GovWin, said public health, Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control and parts of the banking system would be considered essential government functions, with IT personnel supporting those functions viewed as essential.

Whether IT personnel are deemed essential would likely have to be determined on a case-by-case basis, rather than at the agency or project level. Even if civilian or contract employees are deemed essential and continue to work during a shutdown, they face the prospect of not getting paid until the government opens up for business again, Peterson said.

Routine tasks, such as issuing a new laptop, may have to wait until the shutdown ends, Hodgkins said.

Contractors performing essential IT tasks will eventually get paid for their work during the shutdown, though it may take a while, as some federal employees who handle invoices, approve payments and write checks will be deemed nonessential.

Slow payments could lead to cash flow problems for large and small contractors, with cash problems hitting smaller firms earlier than large firms, he said. Cash shortages could hit small firms in less than two weeks.

Hodgkins predicted the government would be back in operation by next Monday.  

Shawn Osborne, president and CEO of TechAmerica, said in a statement that even a short shutdown has long term ramifications. “The constant cycle of continuing resolutions and constant brinkmanship with our government can’t continue,” he said. “Anyone who does any business with the government is constantly living on uncertain footing, completely preventing them from doing any long-term planning or investments. Congress and the president need to understand that even after they come to a deal, the hangover of a shutdown is long and painful.”

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