The ongoing lapse in funding for nearly a quarter of the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security, is impacting training, mission readiness and response, and the rollout of new technologies, former DHS officials said on Thursday as part of a panel discussion hosted by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).
In a separate event on Thursday hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, officials representing the private sector raised concerns that the shutdown is also hurting small businesses that have contracts with affected agencies and rely on the steady stream of revenue from this work to stay in business.
Many small businesses are not getting paid and in many cases, once the shutdown ends, this pay won’t be made up, Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer with the Chamber, said on a media call to discuss the impacts of the lapse in government funding.
The Chamber released a table showing that in fiscal year ’18, which ended last Sept. 30, there were 4,107 small businesses that had contracts with the affected agencies and departments valued at $29.1 billion. Since the 34-day old shutdown began on Dec. 22, 2018, $2.4 billion worth of small business awards are at risk, the data show.
Bradley said that in FY ’18, DHS spent $6.5 billion in prime contracts on small businesses and NASA, which is also suffering from the funding lapse, spent $2.9 billion on small businesses. Since the shutdown began, $559.9 million in DHS small business spending is at risk while $254.8 million is in peril from NASA.
The spending on small businesses by the affected agencies for prime contracts doesn’t capture the revenue these companies receive as subcontractor to larger prime contractors that also may not be getting paid for invoices submitted prior to the shutdown, Bradley said.
David Berteau, the president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, which represents government services contractors, said on the press call that small businesses with government contracts have a choice to either keep employees on despite a cutback in work just so their companies are prepared to compete for new contracts when the shutdown ends, or layoff their workers to save money but then risk not having a workforce in place to compete for new work when the shutdown ends.
Contractors working under current contracts must still keep working unless they’ve received a stop work order, Berteau said. If a contract option ends and there aren’t any government employees to award a new option, then there is requirement for a contractor to continue to perform work on the contract, he said.
Berteau also said the shutdown calls into question the reliability of the government as a customer.
Peter Neffenger, a retired Coast Guard admiral and a former administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, said the most important impact of the shutdown is to the people that work for the affected agencies, including those that take on dangerous and challenging work such as Coast Guard service members and Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), because they aren’t being paid.
And at least with the TSOs, many of them may not come back to the TSA after the shutdown ends, said Neffenger, who led the agency during the last two years of the Obama administration and previously had been a vice commandant of the Coast Guard.
Currently, more TSOs than usual are not reporting for work on a daily basis due to financial constraints, according to TSA.
Neffenger said that new Coast Guard recruits that were in boot camp have been asked to go home because they can’t be paid. Some of these recruits will probably go elsewhere, he said.
The failure to pay workers and the furloughing of others also harms mission readiness, he said.
“I don’t know what the breaking point is but at some point if you can’t fuel aircraft, and you can’t put food onboard the ships, and you can’t repair things that break, then suddenly you can’t do the basic jobs you’ve been asked to do, important jobs,” Neffenger said.
Caitlyn Durkovich, who was assistant secretary of Infrastructure Protection in the DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate under Obama, said despite the funding lapse, there is still basic “blocking and tackling” going on at DHS. She highlighted that the department’s around-the-clock cyber security watch center, known as the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center, continues its work as does the Federal Protective Service in guarding government facilities and DHS support for major public gatherings such as the New Year’s Eve celebration in New York’s Times Square and the upcoming Super Bowl in Atlanta.
Federal networks continue to be protected through ongoing DHS cyber security programs, she said, adding that departments and agencies that “remain reasonably staffed” are doing their part.
“Most of the federal security operations centers, facilities where security information is housed, monitored and analyzed to protect data from cyber threats are also up and running,” she said.
However, Durkovich said, preparedness work isn’t being done nor is DHS work with state and local officials to help protect elections systems from cyber threats. The same goes for help to protecting the Census systems, she said.
Durkovich also said that cyber security technologies that are being acquired by DHS for rollout at various federal agencies under the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program are delayed and that anti-terrorism products and services up for renewal under the SAFETY Act are at risk of losing their certifications and designations because no one is available to process them. The act provides limited liability protections to providers of approved products and services.
A recent DHS effort focused on cyber security of the information technology supply chain is also on hold as are efforts to migrate data centers to the cloud, she said.
DHS inspectors that monitor chemical facilities for anti-terror requirements are on the job but enforcement actions can’t be done, Durkovich said.