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The Tech Deck

What determines which federal gov’t sites get shut down?

So some of your favorite government websites are shut down, such as the U.S. International Trade Commission (oh noes! Not the US ITC! How else am I supposed to search the current Harmonized Tariff Schedule?)

I snarkily replied that it was "a completely nonsensical (from a technical perspective) act", and I freely admit it that I was mistaken. In fact, there were some very sensical arguments made, re: IT staff support and/or the lack of it.

However, I have found a definitive statement about which federal websites would remain operational during an "appropriation lapse" in an official Whitehouse memo which states:

Q1: What is the controlling consideration for the continuity or suspension ofiT operations for an agency during a lapse in appropriations?

A1: The consideration governing all determinations concerning continuity or suspension of Federal activities funded through lapsed appropriations is that such activities, including IT operations, may continue only if they are excepted activities under the Antideficiency Act, or where their continuation is necessarily implied from a congressional authorization or appropriation of other continued functions.

Q2: How should agencies determine what systems, including linked interoperable systems, are to be maintained and operated during an appropriations lapse?

A2: If a single system must operate to avoid significant damage to the execution of authorized or excepted activities, only this system should maintain operations, and support for continued operation of the single system (whether by agency IT staff or by a contractor) should be the minimum necessary to maintain functionality and ensure the security and integrity of the system during the period of the lapse. If the integration of that system with other systems makes it infeasible to maintain operation of the single system without maintaining others with which it is integrated, an agency must provide guidance on operations consistent with avoiding any imminent threat to Federal property (including avoiding any permanent disruption to agency IT systems and ensuring preservation of agency electronic records). Given that websites represent the front-end of numerous back-end processing systems, agencies must determine whether the entire website can be shut down or components of the website will be shut down.

Q3: What is the guidance on keeping Government websites up during a lapse in appropriations if the costs of maintaining the website are funded by a lapsed appropriations source?

A3: The same standards described above would apply. The mere benefit of continued access by the public to information about the agency's activities would not warrant the retention of personnel or the obligation of funds to maintain (or update) the agency's website during such a lapse. However, if maintenance of the website is necessary to avoid significant damage to the execution of authorized or excepted activities (e.g., maintenance of the IRS website may be necessary to allow for tax filings and tax collection, which are activities that continue during an appropriations lapse), then the website should remain operational even if its costs are funded through appropriations that have lapsed. If it becomes necessary to incur obligations to ensure that a website remains available in support of excepted activities, it should be maintained at the lowest possible level.

So there you have it. Unless the site in question must remain in operation to support other government services that do have funding, they slap a "Closed for lunch" sign on the front and head over to Floyd's Barber Shop for a trim.

Thanks to America needs a .gov backup plan for the link to the memo!

Daniel Gayle
Dan Gayle joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He is currently a Python/Django developer in the newsroom, primarily responsible for front end development and design of

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