GSA plans would ease effects of shutdown, administrator says

Half of agency's activites aren't funded by the budget

With the possibility of a government shutdown all but certain, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson told anxious contractors that such a step “would be a real disrupter” and she hoped it would not happen.

However, she added that plans have been in place since the last shutdown in 1995 to ease the effects of any new closure.

For example, GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service would not shut down until its cash reserves reached a predetermined low level, she told the 2011 Small Business Conference on Thursday sponsored by the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council.

“FAS operates much more as a business and they need to plan for such a contingency,” she said. “But for the moment, the plans would indicate that FAS would be open for business with some sort of ‘glide path’ based on the amount of time [a shutdown] would last.”

Johnson pointed out that half of GSA’s activities are not supported by appropriated funds and because it has been reviewing its shutdown plans every two years, the agency has “a fairly robust sense of what we will need to do.”

As for GSA’s landlord responsibilities, “buildings would be operated essentially like a weekend schedule. They will be heated, they will be cared for and they will be secured. But they won’t be open – unless there is an agency that is open and needs to be working.”

The critical issue, she said, will be maintenance of the federal government’s many websites.

“We would need to maintain some of the contracted websites of course because we would be supporting the [Defense Department] and [Homeland Security], and they would be something we would need to maintain,” she said. “But I think a number of other websites would not be up.”

Johnson spoke critically of Continuing Resolution HR-1 because it contained reduced funding levels that would require permanently shutting down some of the government’s transparency sites.

HR-1 “was a pretty severe signal to us about e-Gov funding, which is where much of this [transparency] happens,” she said. “As I said in the [congressional] hearings this week, we are facing some pretty tough choices if we have to stick with that HR level of funding unless something special is done.”

Johnson recalled that social media was not an issue during the last shutdown, but “the government has moved swiftly to being a major player in disseminating information, and being transparent to industry and to the nation, and to ourselves. That has become valuable very quickly.”

She said the possibility of a shutdown or a severe cutback in funding is creating some good conversation about appreciating and understanding the importance of transparency and social media.

“But right now, since we don’t know which level of funding we’re at,” Johnson added, “we’re sort of in a bunch of contingency kind of boats, thinking about the possibility of A, B, C or D.”

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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