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What a Washington D.C. Shutdown Means for IT and Cybersecurity

This morning we awoke to the stark reality that our lawmakers and the president have failed to reach a deal, even in the short-term, to fund the federal government.

The first shuttering of government doors in 17 years could go on for several days, if not to the next significant inflection point on the calendar – a vote on raising the debt ceiling, which should come between October 17 and November 1. The fact that the government will continue to pay our military, and that there are separate financing mechanisms for Social Security, Medicare and other sensitive programs, makes a prolonged shutdown more likely.

Government IT and the Impact on IT Business

The federal government purchases more than $80 billion in technology each year. The shutdown will likely delay or impact important government IT projects in the areas of cloud computing, mobility and Big Data. The adoption of these technologies is intended to allow our government to operate in a more efficient and cost-effective manner; so delay harms us all.

More to the point, the shutdown will result in late payments and furloughed contractors. This will impact the large integrators down to the small managed service providers that sub-contract. CompTIA has conducted research that indicates approximately one in five IT channel firms have a government practice, meaning they are engaged in ongoing government-related work. While not all of this is federal work, it still makes the case that the government shutdown is not an isolated event, but one that is sure to negatively impact many of our CompTIA member companies.

In addition, outside of government procurement, many tech SMBs also rely on federal financing through the Small Business Administration. The processing of these loans will come to a standstill.

Impact on Cybersecurity and the Cyber-Workforce

Under the shutdown, all non-essential government personnel will be asked to stay home without pay. Each agency has at its discretion the ability to determine who qualifies as essential personnel, but it is generally defined as employees vital to national defense and public health and safety.

It has been noted that the contingency plans that address a government shutdown for each federal agency may not be adequately up to date to address the need to retain personnel to defend against cyber-attacks on the government network. While we do not have first-hand knowledge in this regard, clearly a government shutdown stretches resources needed for this important work.

Reports also indicate that much of the National Institute for Standards and Technology staff will be sent home. NIST is the agency responsible for helping to establish a framework to protect critical infrastructure under the president’s executive order on cybersecurity – Executive Order 13636, “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.” This important work is now apparently on hold.

NIST is also the agency charged with implementing the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) framework. The framework and affiliated online portal is an effort to categorize knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) and then map tools and industry-recognized certifications to those skills. NICE is a constructive process that will lead to establishing a common lexicon across government, industry and academia so that we can readily identify what is working and what gaps remain as we collectively move toward a larger and better equipped cyber-workforce. This important work is now also on hold.

CompTIA and its training partners will no doubt hear that government training and testing for information assurance will be postponed during this shutdown. Both the public and private sectors agree that we need more personnel with basic and elite skills combating cyber-attacks in government. Today’s events are a setback – one that we sincerely hope will not persist for long.

The Days Ahead

It is possible that this shutdown could go on for days. But keep an eye on Wall Street. If there is a volatile market over the next few days, this could empower the speaker of the house to put a clean continuing resolution – a stop-gap spending bill with no amendments to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act or other items – up for a vote on the House floor. Under such a scenario, it is possible that enough Republicans would join with Democrats to reach 216 votes and pass the House, thus ending the standoff and re-opening the government.

Most importantly, let your members of Congress know how you feel about this shutdown and its impact on IT and cybersecurity. They need to know!

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