USDA website shuttered on security concerns

Published on: Oct 7, 2013
Visitors to USDA.gov are currently redirected to this message about the lapse in government funding.
Visitors to USDA.gov are currently redirected to this message about the lapse in government funding.

WHEN funding for the federal government lapsed Oct. 1, departments and agencies began implementing shutdown plans formulated in case Congress and the White House reached an impasse on passing a continuing resolution. The U.S. Department of Agriculture took the unique step, as part of its shutdown plan, of shutting down almost all of its sizeable website and internet-based data repository.

“This action is based on our shutdown plan. At this time, we do not have staff to provide the adequate cyber security measures to keep the entire site online,” USDA spokesman Courtney Rowe told Feedstuffs over the weekend. “Portions of the Food Safety Inspection Service website and others pages that are essential to emergency functions are still active.”

For almost every page at USDA.gov, however, users are redirected to a static shutdown message: “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available. After funding has been restored, please allow some time for this website to become available again.”

While the price and supply reporting functions of the Agricultural Marketing Service and the crop estimating and data gathering functions of the National Agricultural Statistics Service are far more pressing concerns for the industry, the complete absence of USDA’s website seemed to many in the agriculture community like pouring salt in the proverbial wound.

“I’ve been using this site in my advanced food science classes to enhance my nutrition and digestion unit,” one agriculture education instructor explained Monday morning, venting her frustration via Facebook.

Others lamented the lack of access to USDA’s significant volume of historical crop and livestock market data, as well as insight and analysis provided by experts at agencies such as the Economic Research Service.

While the employees who gather and provide such content and commentary will not be available for the duration of the shutdown, USDA’s complete web silence appeared to be the most drastic online step taken by a federal agency. Others, including the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and Department of Housing and Urban Development continued to operate their websites, many with prominent warnings explaining that sites would not be updated during the shutdown, and that some functions would not be available.

The Daily Livestock Report noted Monday that among the highly limited (and mostly hidden) web functions still available at the USDA site are its Mandatory Price Reporting Datamart. While MPR data through Sept. 30 appears to be available, the DLR economists cautioned that some of the data appears to be inaccurate, and reminded readers that AMS staffers will not be on hand to correct such issues until government funding is restored.