Government Shutdown: Implications and Consequences

March 8, 2024

Government Shutdown:  Implications and Consequences


By Emma Donnelly

48 hours.  That’s how long a warrantless arrestee has to be arraigned after being taken into custody.  That’s how long financial experts advise you to wait before making any major purchases.  That’s also how long Congress has to enact a bill that will give funding to six essential government departments and avoid what could be the most detrimental government shutdown in US history.

What is a Government Shutdown?

In 1884, Congress passed the Anti-Deficiency Act.  The Act served to prevent federal agencies from spending or obligating funds without an act of appropriation from Congress.  For each fiscal year, Congress has to pass and the President has to sign 12 appropriation bills that would comprise the discretionary funding budget, which funds the government’s activities.  If these bills are not enacted, then all non-essential discretionary funds to reliant departments are suspended and all non-essential work must cease until the new discretionary funding for the fiscal year is passed.  As of now, Congress has enacted none of the 12 bills for the 2024 fiscal year.

What is the Cause of the Current Government Shutdown?

To put it bluntly, the problem is Republican infighting.  The Speaker of the House, newly elected Republican Mike Johnson, is struggling to control the hard-right Republicans, who are refusing to vote on the appropriation bills unless they make sweeping cuts.

These cuts include:

  • Slashing funds for schools with low-income students
  • Eliminating up to 82,000 preschool slots for children
  • Slashing funds for law enforcement and eliminating up to 1,850 government personnel
  • Raising housing costs for up to 20,000 households
  • Slashing funds for critical job training and workforce development programs
  • Severely undermining critical health research for diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s

These demands are impossible.  And yet, the hard-liner right-wing Republicans are insisting on them.  According to Dr. Jaro Bilocerkowycz, a professor of political science at the University of Dayton, this stalemate is a reflection of an increasingly artificial democracy.  “Some members of Congress and factions are playing politics to win clicks on social media or be interviewed on certain news sites rather than being serious about governance and compromise,” Dr. Bilocerkowycz stated in a statement from March 5.

As the clock ticks down, Johnson may be forced to turn to the Democrats for the votes he needs to pass the bills, which could place him in a precarious position within his own party.

What Threats Does a Government Shutdown Pose to Cybersecurity?

There is a terrifying parallel between a government shutdown and cybersecurity breaches.  A shutdown has immediate and deep impacts on government activities, including it’s ability to protect the nation’s cyber network from inside and outside threats.

Back in September, before President Joe Biden signed the stopgap bill that extended the deadline for the passage of the bills, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) was prepared to furlough more than 80% of its workforce.  CISA’s coverage includes the protection of critical infrastructure, transportation, healthcare and energy.  CISA’s capability to provide guidance and assistance to these organizations in a timely manner in order to defend them from cyberbreaches and attacks would be severely weakened by a government shutdown.

Internal Cyber Threats

The government shutdown would mean the suspension of payment to hundreds of thousands of Americans.  As evidenced in past shutdowns, this fosters frustration that often manifests in detrimental ways.  Without the extensive cyber protection provided CISA and the government, cyber networks are especially at risk during a shutdown.  Data theft and sabotage of the cyber system by workers with access to sensitive information has a higher rate of possibility.  Additionally, disgruntled employees may be seen as vulnerable to outside influence, and could be exploited by competitors or even other nations to trade secrets.

External Cyber Threats

External threats to cybersecurity are also increased during a government shutdown.  A lack of funding for CISA, on which several important administrations rely on for protection of their cyber infrastructure, means slower response to breaches and an widened cyber landscape for individual corporations to cover.  A lack of substantial government protection means that corporations and organizations that had previously relied on CISA for extensive cyber coverage will be left with chinks in their armor that are liable to be exploited by malevolent actors.  Additionally, access grants become more susceptible to infiltration through backwater means due to blind spots created by increased difficulty in monitoring cyber access.

Preparing for a Shutdown

In preparation for a government shutdown, there are measures that organizations should take in order to protect themselves from cyber-attacks.  These include increased private cyber governance, the enactment of policies, procedures, and internal controls to combat cyber-attacks, the creation of a procedure for immediate response to cyber-attacks, and LOTS of practice of all the above measures.

A sign declares the National Archive is closed due to a partial federal government shutdown in Washington, U.S., December 22, 2018.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

International Implications of a Government Shutdown

According to Dr. Bilocerkowycz, the “all too frequent government shutdowns and threats to shutdown highlight our deep political polarization and dysfunction.”  For the past 250 years, the American government has been the pinnacle of democracy.  Now, it seems to be teetering on the verge of collapse.

“This no doubt troubles and puzzles our international allies and partners and please our geopolitical rivals,” Dr. Bilocerkowycz stated.  “[It’s] hard to count on or respect a country that can’t do basic governance such as passing budgets in a timely way.”

It has also been reported by Paul Nakasone, former US Army General and former head of the National Security Agency, the Central Security Service, and the United States Cyber Command, that Chinese cyber actors have infiltrated the cyber network of the United States and have access the critical US infrastructure (namely systems that provide water, electricity, and fuel to US citizens) using malware.  General Nakasone suggested that immediate action be taken by the US government to strengthen the cyber security network of the nation in order to combat further cyber breaches… a government shutdown isn’t exactly what he had in mind.

Avoiding a Government Shutdown

Despite the grim circumstances in which our nation finds itself, all is definitely not lost.  On February 29, the Senate and the House passed another stopgap measure that was signed by President Joe Biden on March 1.  In the bill, congressional leaders agreed on six appropriation bills that would be enacted before March 8.  The remaining six would be finalized and passed before March 22.  If these deadlines are not met, then a government shutdown seems imminent.

The first six bills will cover funding for the following:

  • The Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration
  • The Commerce and Justice Departments
  • Science, Energy and Water Developments
  • The Interior Department
  • Military Construction and Compartment of Veterans Affairs
  • The Transportation Department and Housing and Urban Development

The six departments to be included in the March 22 bill include:

  • Defense, Health, and Human Services
  • Homeland Security
  • Financial Services
  • State and Foreign Ops
  • Legislative Branch

In 48 hours, the people of the United States will have the decision of Congress.  Either democracy prevailed and a compromise was reached, or a government shutdown will be enacted.  If that is the case, and the government does shut down, then our duty as American citizens becomes clear.  It up to the American people to ensure that the spirit of liberty and democracy that our nation was founded on survives this perilous time.