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What Are the Lessons Learned from the 2013 Shutdown? Agencies Have No Idea.

Kevin Bacher/NPS

On Dec. 11, federal agency coffers are scheduled to run dry, creating the possibility for another government shutdown.

The key word there appears to be “another;” agencies went through the whole shutdown thing just one year ago, so they should be ready for it again. They should have learned from what happened in October  2013 to allow for a smoother potential shutdown and lessened disruption on operations, right?

Not so, says the Government Accountability Office.

A recent audit of three agencies’ response to last year’s shutdown found government offices never documented what they did during that time; they have no record of what worked well and what did not, what they might want to try again in a future lapse of appropriations or what they might need to rethink.

“[Office of Management and Budget] staff told us that after the shutdown, they did not direct agencies to update their contingency plans or document in another way how the shutdown was planned for, managed, or implemented in terms of lessons learned for future reference,” GAO wrote in the report.

The auditors said that “documenting what actually happened once a shutdown is over,” including how the agencies got back up and running, could help them “better prepare and plan in the event of a future shutdown.”

GAO recommended that OMB issue guidance requiring agencies to document lessons learned in planning for, implementing and recovering from a shutdown should the agencies stay closed for more than five days. OMB would not comment on the recommendation, telling GAO only that it would take it “into consideration.” 

Eric Katz writes about federal agency operations and management. His deep coverage of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Postal Service has earned him frequent guest spots on national radio and television news programs. Eric joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 and previously worked for The Financial Times. He is a graduate of The George Washington University.

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