Some agency Web pages were not on furlough this time
- By Shawn McCarthy
- Jan 22, 1996
Congratulations to all agencies that made the effort to keep
their Internet servers up and running during the furlough.
Face-to-face and telephone services might have been out, but much of on-line government
remained functional. It reflects well on agency personnel that, of dozens of government
Web and gopher servers I tested in January, only a handful failed to respond. Those I
couldn't reach included the Census Bureau at http://www.census.gov
and the Environmental Protection Agency at http://www.epa.gov
That's a much better response rate than I saw during the November shutdown, when
several important servers went off line, including the Social Security Administration at http://www.ssa.gov and the Library of
Congress at http://www.loc.gov.
Officials at both sites said they pulled the plug because they had no support staff.
But it seemed more like a political statement because servers can run just fine over long
weekends. I was glad to see the sites stayed up during the second furlough.
My class-act award for performance during the January furlough goes to the U.S.
Geological Survey, which not only kept its Web server up at http://www.usgs.gov/
but also posted status of other USGS servers daily.
When visitors clicked on "Federal shutdown notice," they read, "Some of
our Web servers may serve information critical to the safety of life and property.
Therefore, USGS Web sites will remain open under minimal supervision. Although our systems
are highly automated, they eventually need maintenance. If one fails, an evaluation will
be made on a case-by-case basis to restore service or shut down."
That shows sincere concern for service to the citizens. USGS couldn't make promises,
but it did what it could during an extremely difficult time.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the office most likely to deal with real
emergencies, left its server at http://www.fema.gov/
on but didn't maintain the site. The home page said it would be updated "in the event
of a catastrophic disaster."
The National Science Foundation set up a special mail handler that sent this response
from firstname.lastname@example.org: "Your
message has been received and is being delivered to the addressee. However, since NSF is
among those agencies directed to shut down operations, the addressee may not be able to
read your message until normal operations resume."
If your agency's server went off line during a furlough because of maintenance
concerns, here's an alternative plan:
First, disable write privileges for anyone except the system administrator, especially
for File Transfer Protocol services. You won't have to worry about people uploading files
while you're gone.
Second, evaluate how often visitors use on-line forms and how much disk room their
input occupies. If responses could fill up your disk while you're gone, disable the forms.
Third, post a message that maintenance will be sporadic and that on-line information is
considered reliable but not guaranteed--check with your legal counsel on wording. Finally,
ask your employees to sign off temporarily from their mail lists to hold down the incoming
Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.