Tuesday, October 8, 2013

White House Holds The Internet Hostage in Budget Showdown

Two weeks before the federal government shutdown began on Oct 1, the Director of The Office of Management and Budget issued a memo to the heads of federal departments and agencies, laying out a game plan for a potential federal shutdown. The notice is basically a 'how to' guide on shutting down federal operations, for any department heads who may not be familiar with the procedure. After all, the last time the government shut down, Barrack Obama had only just become old enough to even run for the office of President.

The memo starts out with some pretty important guidelines about not shutting down operations that are essential to public safety. The premise of which is basically saying don't go unplugging any nuclear reactors (unless you really have to). Beyond the basics, however, there's some more fine grained and at times head-scratchingly illogical advice. In the case of the guidance regarding website operation, the OMB advises that all websites should be disabled, unless doing so would significantly impede the agency's ability to carry out activities that are exempted from the shutdown.

In keeping with this guidance from The White House, the Department of Health and Human Services has remained online at hhs.gov and healthcare.gov. These websites, crucial as they are to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), which has been the focal point of the current deadlock in Congress, have, naturally, remained among the few federal websites to stay online. All the while, other federal websites, many of which are widely used to access the mountains of data held by our federal government, have been shuttered. Among those affected are factfinder.gov, ftc.gov, and Congress' own website loc.gov. The irony of the situation being that the federal government has been bemoaning the threat of cyber criminals taking down government websites for years, and all it took was a single ill-advised provision of a White House memorandum to do the job.

While the availability of these websites is largely automated and the cost of keeping them accessible online, without any updates or new development, would be pennies per hour, the White House guidance instructs all websites to be taken offline, even if the cost of shutting them down exceeds the cost of continued operations, which was likely the case for most of these websites. Some websites, like that of the Federal Trade Commission, haven't even been taken offline, but instead have simply had an overlay added to prevent anyone from using the website. Now, in place of the material one expects to find when visiting the affected websites, a message reads something along the lines of this website is closed due to the federal government shutdown. Though it may as well read; you can have this information back--just as soon as we get paid. Perhaps the good people of the federal government could consider taking out a payday loan or two, like millions of Americans have to do to get by, and stop trying to punish the American people, who pay their salaries, for their own mismanagement of our money.