Kennedy assassination tapes a hit on FDsys site

The Government Printing Office cooperated with NARA to host recently released audio tapes of Air Force One communications from Nov. 22, 1963.

The Government Printing Office’s online site for official government documents received a record number of visitors after the Jan. 30 release of recordings of radio traffic aboard Air Force One in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination.

The Federal Digital System (FDsys) received more than 140,000 visits from Jan. 30 through Feb. 3, including a one-day record of 55,856 on Jan. 31. The site usually receives about 16,000 visits a day.

“We expected a surge,” said GPO Chief Technology Officer Ric Davis. “It came at the tail end of making information available from the Nixon grand jury testimony.”


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The National Archives and Records Administration made transcripts available in November of the testimony of President Richard Nixon before the Watergate Grand Jury in 1975. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia opened the files.

Both the Air Force One recordings and the Nixon testimony were posted on FDsys in collaboration with NARA, which houses the materials. GPO worked with NARA to make the materials available online because of the storage and bandwidth available through FDsys, Davis said. “They knew we had the infrastructure in place and the capacity to deal with this.”

The two-and-a-half hours of radio traffic between Air Force One, the White House and government officials in Washington and elsewhere was recorded by the White House Communications Agency in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

Two copies of the open real audio tape were found among the papers of Army Gen. Chester Clifton Jr., a military aide to Kennedy, and given to NARA. An edited version of the recordings that is 40 minutes shorter is housed in the National Archives Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library. Johnson, who was sworn in as president aboard Air Force One after the assassination, is among those heard on the tapes.

The recordings were the first audio content placed on FDsys, which has focused on text documents, but hosting audio files was not a problem for the site. “The only issue was the size, but it was something we were able to deal with with our existing infrastructure,” Davis said.

FDsys was launched in 2009 as a follow-on to GPO Access, the printing office’s first Web portal for government documents. It makes authenticated, digitally signed documents from all three branches of federal government available online, searchable by congressional committee, member of Congress, keyword and date.

The site contains the daily Congressional Record and Federal Register, but the resource that consistently gets the most daily traffic is probably the Code of Federal Regulations. The annual release of the federal budget always generates a sharp jump in traffic, however, and FDsys was designed to handle the traffic spikes. It uses a content delivery system from Level 3 Communications to ensure adequate bandwidth.

“It allows us to serve up cached copies so all the traffic doesn’t hit our servers,” Davis said.

The next spike in FDsys traffic is expected with the release of the president’s fiscal 2013 federal budget proposal Feb. 13.

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