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House Web site struggles to deal with bailout-related e-mail deluge

Bailout bill drives surge in traffic, messages to lawmakers; IT staff takes emergency steps

October 1, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The IT staff at the U.S. House of Representatives is taking emergency steps in an effort to handle a fourfold increase in the amount of e-mail that has come in via the House's Web site since Sunday, when the text of the proposed Wall Street bailout bill was posted online.

The crush of e-mails from constituents about the proposed $700 billion bailout clogged the servers hosting the House.gov Web site, making it inaccessible for lengthy periods of time on Monday, when the House voted down the bill and triggered a massive sell-off in the stock market.

On Tuesday, the House Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, which provides operations and technical support to a community of 10,000 House members and staffers, implemented a stopgap traffic management measure that seems to have eased the congestion somewhat, said CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura.

In hopes of further improving the site's performance, the CAO today was testing what, based on Ventura's description, appears to be load balancing technology from a network management vendor. If the tests prove successful, the technology will be deployed on a permanent basis, he said, while declining to identify the involved vendor.

When the House.gov site was checked by Computerworld this morning, it was accessible but only after a delay, and it appeared to be responding slowly overall. Parts of the site seemed to be functioning this afternoon. But the links from the home page to individual representatives and committees, as well as the "Find Your Representative" and "Write Your Representative" applications, were still sluggish or unresponsive.

Ventura said the congestion crisis began on Sunday, after the details of the proposed bailout bill were posted on the Web page of the House Committee on Financial Services. Almost immediately, there was a huge spike in traffic on the House site from people wanting to read the text of the bill. Much of that likely resulted from the fact that the House was scheduled to vote on the proposal the very next day. "The timeline was so abbreviated until Congress voted on that bill that we had a surge of people who wanted to read it and download it," Ventura said.

Bad as the increased traffic itself was, what really made things worse was that many of the people who came to the site tried to send e-mails to legislators using the embedded "Write Your Representative" program. That application "was never meant to handle the enormous load" of messages it began receiving on Sunday, Ventura said, adding that the app's performance "was so degraded that combined with the traffic, it started to clog our entire system."



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