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After Leaders' Calls for Public Support, House, Senate Flooded With Electronic Interest

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, July 26 2011

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were both warning the American public of catastrophe last night if the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress couldn't get together to reach a debt deal.

What they probably didn't expect was that it would put a catastrophic load on the websites of members of Congress.

Numerous people complained on Twitter last night and the Committee on House Administration has confirmed that the websites of several members of Congress went down last night, after Obama implored Americans to reach out to their members of Congress and let them know that they supported a compromise on the debt deal.

"Several sites that were hosted by outside vendors, because of high volume, had degradation," Committee spokeswoman Salley Wood told me this morning. "Some sites were sluggish, slow, some were down."

But Wood says they were also all sites that weren't hosted by the House — meaning she has no figures at this time about how many were down or for how long. (Although service has been restored, she says.)

Reporting for the Huffington Post, Craig Kanalley writes last night that at least nine sites for senators and members of the House, from both houses, were down. Those sites included the ones for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

The House and Senate have a bit of a weird web hosting situation. All House websites are hosted on hardware at a single server complex. Third-party vendors can take responsibility for providing the software and, presumably, server configuration that the sites use — meaning uptime is partially the responsibility of those third parties. Wood wouldn't say where the server farm is located.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Office of the Sergeant at Arms did not immediately return an email seeking comment and couldn't be reached by phone — the U.S. Senate switchboard this morning is apparently overloaded, and informing callers that all circuits are busy.

So, the House and Senate's web servers were crushed under the load of folks looking up their members of Congress last night, and this morning, their call switchboards are flooded with calls from people who now have the numbers of their members of Congress.

Coincidence?

Update: Writing for The Atlantic, techPresident escapee emeritus editor Nancy Scola runs down the list of previous examples of Congress' IT failures.

"Capitol Hill is a poorly-calibrated citizen-interest capturing mechanism," she writes, "and has struggled in the past with its dated and often fragile infrastructure."

Obama-as-citizen-whisperer is also called into question. In this space, we've noted in the past that while the president went into office with a vast network of supporters in what became Organizing for America, but seems to have grown out of touch with them over his first year in office. It's out of character, Scola notes, for Obama to ask the public to take an action — and, well, bully for him. But in most cases, it's likely we'll never know what the public is saying or trying to say today — senators and representatives can't be reached, as all circuits are busy.

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