Over the last couple of days I have been reading about the increasing likelihood that some government agencies may shut down due to budgetary pressures, and how well prepared they are to do so. US federal agencies are required by the OMB to maintain contingency plans to manage possible shutdown, but according to an article on Federal Computer Week, a recent Congressional Research Service report has found that agencies should improve their preparedness. According to another article the Social Security Administration has started discussions about how to deal with such an event.
With governments worldwide being under fiscal pressure, the possibility of shutting down part or most of their operations may have to be considered by many. This seems unthinkable to some of us, who believe that government is the service provider of last resort when everything else fails. Just think about the role that governments in many countries have played to bail out the financial services sector and to sustain employment and industries at risk.
However furloughs in many state and local government organizations, salary freezes and furloughs at the federal level, and staff reductions in many countries have already are raising questions about the sustainability of government services and operations.
There is a concrete chance that a shutdown may turn into an opportunity for IT to show its role and credibility. According to what reported by Federal Times about what the SSA is thinking
the agency has largely planned who would make up a “skeleton crew” that would have to keep working during a shutdown. Most of those employees would have to maintain computer systems, facilities, and other elements of SSA’s infrastructure, or provide security at buildings
Online services may become the only way for people to get any service from government, as counters and call centers are shut down or operate only for very short timeframes.
But even more, if government cannot resume operations or services in a short timeframe, technology may help society self organize to act on government behalf. Public safety, waste collection and other community services, assistance to elderly and disabled people: these and others would be candidate for some form of crowdsourcing. Should these be left entirely to the good will and initiative of individuals and voluntary groups, or should government actively seek for and coordinate this engagement? And, if so, should it do it “officially”, creating a form of “emergency outsourcing” or should it encourage individual employees who seek innovative ways to keep some minimum service levels by engaging citizens and other stakeholders?
Well, this interesting scenario may never become reality, since – as reported by NextGov – the so-called Antideficiency Act prevents government from accepting voluntary labor for services that do not involve the safety of human life or protection of property. This would rule out the possibility for employees to leverage personal tools (such as their own computing devices and their own social networks) to perform any non essential services, and possibly also the ability of voluntary self-organized citizen networks to help with those.
So while on the one hand the prospects of a shutdown may create a great opportunity for government 2.0 to become a must-have rather than a nice-to-have, on the other hand regulations conceived when the boundaries between professional and personal lives were much more clear would stand in between.