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10/17/2013
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Government Shutdown Damage May Linger

Federal agencies and IT contractors are still assessing the fallout from the shutdown on their operations, but initial figures point to high costs.

Federal agencies and IT contractors are still taking stock of the effects on their operations and IT projects as the U.S. government reopened for business Thursday after a shutdown that lasted 16 days.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Sylvia Burwell issued a memo early Thursday morning, telling department and agency heads to reopen offices and allow employees -- who were on furlough due to the absence of appropriations -- to return to work. OMB said furloughed employees would receive back pay under the legislation passed by the House and Senate on Wednesday night.

As most federal employees return to work, notices to contractors to restart services are also going out. Lockheed Martin Corp. said it will put approximately 2,400 furloughed employees back to work soon. "We expect all U.S. government facilities to open, stop work orders to be lifted and for our operations to return to normal as soon as our customers are all back in place and have informed us that we may resume many critical programs that were halted during the shutdown," the company said in a written statement.

[ Has the government shutdown increased your appreciation for federal data services? Read Federal Shutdown: We Miss Our Data. ]

But an early tally of what the shutdown cost the U.S. economy suggests that the impact of the idled government workforce was pricey. According to an estimate from Standard & Poor's, the shutdown cost $24 billion and lowered projected fourth-quarter GDP growth from 3% to 2.4%. Economists at IHS Global Insight estimate that the loss of government services will total roughly $3.1 billion.

One service "at risk" is open data, according to data search and discovery company Enigma, which created a site visualizing the shutdown's impact. Federal open data portals, including Census.gov and Data.gov, went dark on Oct. 1, halting agency efforts to become more transparent, participatory and collaborative -- the goals outlined in the Obama administration's Open Government Directive.

Another service to suffer from the government closure is the space program. NASA is slowly restoring normal operations, including its main website, which was still offline on Thursday morning. Enigma's site shows that the majority -- 97% -- of NASA's employees were furloughed. That's huge compared to other agencies -- for example, at the Department of Veterans Affairs only 5% of workers were on furlough.

"Under the federal government shutdown, NASA has been operating with a skeleton crew of less than 3% of its 18,000 workers, hampering many of the agency's ongoing programs as well as programs in development, and impacting industry's ability to do its job efficiently," president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association Marion Blakey said in a testimony to the Senate on Oct. 11. "The industry workforce supporting NASA is also being affected. Program costs are expected to rise as schedules slip. All of NASA's programs may face future funding challenges as a consequence."

A less-recognized NASA function delayed by the shutdown is the development of a government-wide information technology cybersecurity framework, Blakey added. NASA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have paused work on the draft cybersecurity framework, which was scheduled for release on Oct. 10.

The lingering effects of the shutdown could have broader consequences for U.S. science programs. One commenter wrote in response to a The Washington Post article online: "The sequester and shutdown have already snowballed, provoking thousands of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, scientists and clinicians, all of whom are paid in federal grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to some degree, to seek other careers or leave the country. Many scientists fear this is the beginning of the end of American scientific leadership."

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