US Govt. shutdown affects geospatial services worldwide

By on 8 October, 2013

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The US Government shutdown continues into its second week, with most government services remaining offline.

The shutdown, caused by a non-agreement for the 2013-14 financial year’s budget, which began on September 30, has left hundreds of thousands of US government employees on leave without pay for the second week running.

The disagreement on the budget has been caused largely by the Republicans’ disagreement with Barack Obama’s affordable care act – a health care reform that would bring US health care in-line with most other developed nations.

The shutdown has also affected, globally, the geospatial industry, with many important services being switched off until funding can be agreed upon. Services affected include those run by USGS and NASA – which includes Landsat and other US-controlled EO satellites, and sites like landcover.org  – as well the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Bureau of Land Management.

Other major departments and agencies that contract work with the geospatial profession include: the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Agriculture, Corps of Engineers and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

The Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS) was among 240 groups that sent a letter last week urging Congress to avoid a shutdown. John Palatiello, the executive director of MAPPS, issued the following statement via email last week:

“The federal government shutdown not only affects federal employees, but it affects contractors as well.  If a firm is a contractor and needs government furnished materials to perform their tasks, and the government employees who provide that material are furloughed, then the contractor cannot work. Additionally, contractors that work on-site at government facilities can’t go to work if the facility is shut down. Some firms could move employees to other, non-Federal assignments, but that is limited in many cases. And firms may not be authorized to bill the government for time spent on a federal contract during the shutdown. While federal employees have in past shutdowns received back pay, that has not always been the case for contractors.

“That is why MAPPS believes it is important for Congress to pass appropriations bills on time, before the fiscal year begins on October 1, something that has not occurred for several years, regardless of which political party has controlled either house of Congress or the White House. That is why MAPPS signed the letter with the Chamber and more than 250 other organizations. As taxpayers, our Board members understand the issues that are dividing the Congress, and the President. But as business owners, the continuity of operations in government and with contractors is essential.

“It should be noted that the letter MAPPS joined makes several points to Congress. It not only calls for keeping the government open, but urges resolution of the upcoming debt ceiling issue and, most importantly, reform of entitlement spending that is bankrupting the nation. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that by 2038, our debt will reach 100 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, assuming no changes to current law, or even a staggering 190 percent of GDP (based on a less optimistic alternative fiscal scenario).  Over the next 10 years, our interest expense will be a whopping $5 trillion. This entitlement spending crowds out the ability of government to do the “general welfare” things we most expect our government to do, such as national defense, homeland security, infrastructure — all of which require geospatial data, products, services and technology.”

More information on the shutdown, and the contingencies in place, is available at the DOI website.

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