The shutdown is over, but the damage will be felt for a long time
© Stefani Reynolds

We have a deal to reopen the government.  No doubt many Americans have breathed a sigh of relief – and none more so than the 800,000 government workers who were not paid for a month as they were held hostage to government dysfunction. We are grateful for this agreement …  but a little wary.  This “deal” has an expiration date – 21 days -- that is shorter than the length of the shutdown.

As Congress and the administration take this “time out” we implore them to step back from brinksmanship and not hold the federal workforce in the crosshairs of longstanding philosophical and policy disagreements. This is not a telenovela. It is real life with real impacts that are personal, economic, and will be felt for years to come.

ADVERTISEMENT

The damage done by the government shutdown, followed by this short-term deal, will be felt well beyond the time when both sides of the aisle agree to a budget. Today’s political discord will leave economic and cybersecurity waves in its wake.

Some studies valued the federal government shut down tab at more than $6 billion and counting. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Dollars and cents just tell part of the story.

We are worried about much more.

  • The cybersecurity risks of having so many on our front-line defenses sitting idle -- at home waiting for our nation’s leaders to come to agreement – grew day-by-day and won’t be easily erased by Feb 15. Duo Security reported that 85 percent of staff at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and 45 percent of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency had been furloughed.

What will await them as they return to their jobs on Monday and will they even be able to “catch up” on their inbox from time lost to the shutdown in just three weeks?

  • The federal government already has a talent challenge as it is forced to compete with higher pay from private sector counterparts. Our nation’s IT infrastructure and cyber defenses require a skilled and devoted workforce. Public service offers many rewards.

Yet if the last several weeks have shown anything, it is that government has not kept faith with its employees.  How is a career path attractive when your employer can pull the rug out from under and food off your family’s table at any time? Why would IT students feel that a government job provides them with both challenge and stability when they see how quickly their paychecks can disappear?

When the smoke clears, the longest, lasting impact of the shutdown may just end up being the inability to attract the skilled workers our government needs to enable our country to both protect itself and stay competitive in the 21st century.

“The talent drain after this is finally resolved will cost us five years,” an anonymous source told Brian Krebs for a story on his cybersecurity blog KrebsonSecurity.

It is time for our nation’s leaders to return back to the basics and do what is best for our nation’s economy, government workers, consumers and business owners.

We now have a three-week respite. Please, let’s not once again make government workers pawns in a game, where there are no winners. Move quickly to a long-term budget agreement and restore faith and support for our federal workers.  

Elizabeth Hyman is the executive vice president, public advocacy for CompTIA.