A looming U.S. government shutdown could mean smaller paychecks for some government IT workers and contractors, as well as renegotiated contracts for some IT vendors.
The possible shutdown is scheduled to happen next Tuesday unless President Obama and congressional leaders can agree on a continuing budget resolution to keep agencies open. Many congressional Republicans want to cut funding for the huge health-care program known as Obamacare and approved in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, in exchange for passing a government funding bill, but Obama has refused to negotiate.
With little time for Congress to avoid a government shutdown, some IT workers should prepare to be furloughed, said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for global public sector government affairs at TechAmerica, a large tech trade group. Many government IT systems will continue to run during a shutdown, and systems administrators will likely need to continue to work, but some IT workers, such as desktop support staff, may have an unpaid vacation during a shutdown, he said.
IT workers who install new desktops won't be needed if there aren't many workers on the job, he said. "Those things can probably wait for a week" until the issues surrounding a shutdown are resolved, Hodgkins said.
At the same time, government IT hiring has been down since March, when new budget cuts went into effect, according to Computerworld.
Some government IT contracts may also take a hit, he added. Some agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have sent messages to IT contractors saying they will likely seek amendments to contracts during a shutdown because the contract work won't be needed, Hodgkins said.
The shutdown should have little effect on new government contracts, but it's likely that Congress will cap new contracts in any continuing budget resolution that's passed, he said. Recent continuing resolutions have typically capped IT contracts at the previous year's level, meaning funding for new contracts will be difficult to find, Hodgkins said.
IT contractors need to work hard to drum up business during this time of lean budgets, added Donna Council, vice president of government with SmartProcure, which operates a national database of government purchasing history.
"During a government shutdown, or even when there is simply a looming possibility, you can expect a great deal of soul-searching regarding all existing contracts, not just IT," she said in an email. "This is a time for hungry IT contractors to contact new potential government clients, and it's also a time for those with current contracts to make sure they are providing the best possible value."
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.