Editor’s Desk: Ordered to Shut Down

This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series November 2013

Note: The federal government is running once again; here Dave Doyle (former chief geodetic surveyor for the NGS and our geodesy editor) explains NGS’s role in the shutdown, work-arounds in case this happens again, and what you can do to help prevent a denial of access to essential surveying data in the future. 

Maybe Joni Mitchell said it best in her song, Big Yellow Taxi, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”  

The federal shutdown has had a significant impact on many aspects of life and the economy in this country, not the least of which has been the surveying and mapping communities.  PSM, the offices of the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), and I received numerous re-sponses/complaints from surveyors across the country concerning the lack of access to information from a variety of federal agencies, especially from the National Geodetic Survey (NGS).  Denial of access to the CORS network and OPUS, along with other products and services of the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS), had an immense impact on the activities of many users requiring high-accuracy positions from GPS observations. 

Some complaints suggested that NGS should have just left the computers running and let everyone have access even if there was no one around to service them.  Be assured the computers were not shut down (but the authorization to sufficiently staff and operate all the real-time web services, e.g. OPUS and data sheets, had  not been given), and there was at least a skeleton staff at NGS and other offices to respond to safety-of-life and property issues.  Also be assured that the staff at NGS (and the other federal employees) were anxious to be back at work performing the services and other functions that most of us believe are a critical part of our national infrastructure.  

They were not working because, under the specifics of the order, they were prohibited by law from doing so. 

From the Office of Personnel Management directive, “A shutdown furlough occurs when there is a lapse in appropriations, and can occur at the beginning of a fiscal year, if no funds have been appropriated for that year, or upon expiration of a continuing resolution, if a new continuing resolution or appropriations law is not passed. In a shutdown furlough, an affected agency would have to shut down any activities funded by annual appropriations that are not exempted by law. Typically, an agency will have very little to no lead time to plan and implement a shutdown furlough.”   

It is important to understand that the network of 2000+ CORS is only managed by NGS.  The agency owns around 60 of them; the rest come from 200+ federal, state, and local government agencies, academia, and the private sector.  Data for most of these stations are available by directly contacting the operator.  Unfortunately, most users of the CORS network do not know who the operators are.  
Now that this shutdown is over and the network is again available, users should take time to log the contact information for site operators in areas where they perform the most work.  In addition, contact your congressional district representative to let him or her know how denial of service has affected your business and your community.  

Better yet, do what I will be doing on November 21: joining other members of NSPS in the halls of Congress on Capitol Hill Day (look online for “NSPS Hill Day”) where we intend to meet with our Congressmen and explain why what surveyors do and what NGS does is essential to day-to-day life in America.  It’s time they hear it from us loud and clear.  

—Dave

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