WASHINGTON -- If the federal government is shut down by a budget impasse Friday night at midnight, the IRS will continue to accept tax returns filed electronically and to process payments. But paper-based returns won't be processed.
Other U.S. government Web sites that offer electronic services unrelated to national security and the protection of life and property won't likely to be updated -- and it's possible that some could go offline.
U.S agencies are now preparing for a shutdown because of the congressional deadlock over the federal budget for the current fiscal year. The shutdown could end up furloughing some 800,000 federal employees, and scores of people who work for federal contractors, according to government officials and analysts.
As for the decision to have the IRS continue collecting taxes that are filed electronically, "We need to be able to collect the money that is owed to the U.S. government," said a senior administration official, speaking with reporters on background Tuesday. "And that's the same process as issuing electronic refunds, so electronic refunds and collection of monies will continue."
But the outlook for other government services delivered electronically is less certain.
"Most Web sites will not continue, only those Web sites that are part of these accepted activities would continue to operate," the senior official said. "Accepted activities," refers to essential, life and safety-related government services.
But how the government's electronic, automated operations will be affected between agencies remains to be seen. Many government Web sites included automated tools for searches and filling out forms.
Although the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), for instance, will be closed by a shutdown, its Web site, which includes a number of tools to help businesses, will remain operational, an agency spokesman said.
The SBA site is hosted off-site and maintained by a contractor who has already been paid, the spokesman said.
Ray Bjorklund, an analyst at Federal Sources, says static Web sites can keep running until the server crashes. But people who interact with the government via the Web have a higher risk of that interaction going unfulfilled, which might be a reason the government takes down a Web site, he said.
"Another reason to take down a Web site would be to make a political point," said Bjorklund.
The budget situation has already been difficult for IT vendors that sell to the government.
Ken Ammon, the chief strategy officer at Xceedium, a company that makes IT security projects, including access control appliances, said the government's recent operation on continuing resolutions (stop-gap funding measures) has prevented customers from buying new products. The Herndon, Va.-based firm counts numerous federal agencies among its customers.
"We have customers that are prohibited from purchasing anything until they get an approved budget," said Ammon.
Deniece Peterson, an analyst at government market research firm Input, said government purchases for new technologies can involve a lengthy process. "This environment certainly does not help facilitate any type of innovation, that's for sure," said Peterson.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com .
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