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One Way to Avoid a White House Email-Gate

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, February 4 2011

White House photo by Pete Souza

Earlier this week, the White House's unclassified email system went on the fritz. The Washington Post's Federal Eye folks have the inside scoop on the end-of-days-like situation that ensued inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue while they waited for Verizon to make the executive branch of the United States government fully functional again:

Inside the West Wing, advisers normally glued to their BlackBerries wandered the halls Thursday, suddenly untethered from their desks, talking to one another.

In at least part of the building, the heat had also ceased to function -- prompting some officials with fireplaces in their offices to light fires to stay warm. The smell of smoke wafted from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs's office, as aides sociably gathered at his desk to eat lunch together (Gibbs was on the road with the president).

What did this mean for the mobile technologies-loving President of the United States? The good folks at WaPo report:

President Obama, who carries a BlackBerry, was cut off from e-mail as well during his trip to State College, Pa.

Wait, now, what? That's right, the President of the United States couldn't get his emails. Once more for emphasis:

President Obama, who carries a BlackBerry, was cut off from e-mail as well during his trip to State College, Pa.

The good news? The outage didn't affect the classified email system, says the White House. And that while the situation brought back memories of "a series of outages during the opening days of the Obama administration," those sorts of things have become less common in recent days, which perhaps carries a certain sort of sad comfort. Then there's, perhaps, the benefit, from the staffers' perspective, of having a few blissfully undocumented hours that will never get them tripped up in a congressional investigation. Think of the peace of mind.

The bad news? Email outages and technical glitches of all sorts (including actual electrical blackouts) in the federal government likely surprise no one working in the federal government. It can kind of be shocking sometimes to, in one ear, hear all the big and innovative tech-savvy plans for what the public thinks the government should do and, in the other ear, hear tale of the infrastructure and processes with which public servants are working that can seem to the rest of us descriptive of a time long gone by -- of days when getting both "www" and "non-www" to work on a site was a feat. Actually, did that time ever exist, outside the United States federal government? One is too young to know. Anyway, it's almost a dirty little secret, that gap between 21st century governance and a government that's still struggling to get out of the 20th one.