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Like Technology, Government Shutdowns Evolve

Photo: aoc.gov

The last time a government shutdown happened was in 1995. It was a different era technologically back then. Laptops were clunky, barely-mobile devices. No Wi-Fi. No smartphones. No WikiLeaks.

If you need any indication of how rapidly the world of technology has changed, look no further than the nation’s chief executive during the mid-’90s shutdowns.

“I sent a grand total of two emails as president,” Bill Clinton said at a recent tech conference, adding that when he took office, there were only about 50 sites on the Internet. And, BlackBerries? Forget about it.

But, now that the threat of a government shutdown is rearing its head once again — when all but “essential personnel” will be sent home on furlough — federal agencies might have to rethink what employees will be deemed essential, with a closer look at cybersecurity and IT personnel.

“In 1995, the government wasn’t really doing anything about security, with the exception of three-letter agencies and the military,” Jeffrey Wheatman, a Gartner research group security and privacy analyst, told Nextgov.

Not so, today.

So, what should the government should be doing now? Nextgov reports that former federal executives knowledgeable of government policy said agencies should find out which systems will need daily surveillance and “strategic defense” and match up the proper personnel to carry out those tasks.

Meanwhile, as for those government employees stuck at home, Nextgov reports agencies might take such measures as shutting down web-based email and powering off BlackBerries to keep nonemergency employers from working.

The Antideficiency Act means agencies cannot accept nonessential “voluntary labor” from federal employees during a shutdown, Nextgov reports. Voluntary, because, at least for the length of the shutdown, workers will not be paid.

But, absent a governmentwide policy, it’s likely the regulations will be implemented in a scatter-shot fashion.

However, the potential penalties could be steep for rule-breakers. Federal officials or employees who break them face a $5,000 fine or up to two years prison, Nextgov reports.

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