What The Government Shutdown Means For The Tech Industry

The insanity of the U.S. government shutdown affects far more than you may expect, and some big science and tech implications may surprise you.

Last night the ridiculously over-entitled folks on Capitol Hill decided that their personal politics were more important than the smooth workings of a country of some 319 million people and forced a shutdown of the mechanisms of government. Yes, this means National Parks are effectively closed, some museums are shut, all sorts of medical services may be affected, and the already damaged dollar takes an enormous whack on the international stage. But did you know that the shutdown also means NASA is not going to alert you via Twitter if an asteroid is going to crash into the Earth?

Of course there's still some tech watching the skies, and there may be enough NASA staff left to actually pick up a phone if there's a very serious threat—which is, of course, unlikely. But remember the shocking videos from Russia's meteor scare earlier this year? Things like that can and do happen, and it would be nice to have some warning to stay away from windows, wouldn't it?

In fact, only about 600 of NASA's staff are said to be at work now, because they have to keep watch over the astronauts and cosmonauts in the International Space Station. The impact on future NASA operations is unclear, and it depends how long it takes the government to pull its head out. But there are already concerns that the staff furloughs will impact processing on the bold Maven mission to Mars, due for a launch on November 18. If anything serious happens to Maven, the next launch window won't open until 2016. Basically, if E.T. tries to dial the U.S. this week, he'll get a busy tone.

The shutdown of the Securities and Exchange Commission will likely seriously slow down processing of documentation needed for events like an IPO... and that may have some effects on Twitter, whose IPO was expected to slink out of the secret shadows this week. The Federal Communications Commission will see many of its services closed, which means approval of new devices and discussions about spectrum issues will have to wait—and this may put a crimp on many companies' plans for holiday season device launches.

Oh, and the Federal Trade Commission will, as part of the shuttering of nonessential services, no longer be able to process Freedom Of Information Act requests. This may have implications for journalism and free speech matters, although because of a busted fax machine that office wasn't working at full tilt anyway.

And let's not forget to mention how the doling out of research grants to scientific and medical establishments may falter, how the work of the weather alert system and the EPA will suffer, or how the CDC won't be in a solid position to react to a dramatic outbreak of flu or something worse.

[Image: Flickr user Andrew Michaels]

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  • Dale Callahan

    While some of these are nice to have (and maybe critical), it would be an excellent idea if we could kill many of them for good. The reason we have these battles is because they (congress) spends like crazy and we are way too far in debt. 

    Even in the world of research grants, many of those projects are providing no value to the nation and world. In fact, in the university system, we have too many "entitled" researchers living on the taxpayer.

  • Dale Callahan

    Agreed - grants are not the big issue. But you cannot say billions do not matter.