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United States Government IT Politics

Shutdown Illustrates How Fast US Gov't Can Update Its Websites 77

An anonymous reader writes "Despite what we hear about how much the U.S. government is struggling with a website, it is reassuring that most of government entities can update their websites within a day after they are asked to. This conclusion is the result of research done by the Networking Systems Laboratory at the Computer Science Department of the University of Houston. The research team tracked government websites and their update times, and found that 96% of the websites were updated within 24 hours after President Obama signed HR 2775 into law, ending the Government shutdown. Worth noting that two websites took 8 days to update. It is interesting that the team was able to use the shutdown as an opportunity to study the efficiency of the IT departments of various parts of Government."
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Shutdown Illustrates How Fast US Gov't Can Update Its Websites

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  • by Mitchell314 ( 1576581 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:33PM (#45318949)
    to take something down than to make something new.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      As the federal government well knows by now.

      If you always keep your expectations low WRT government, you'll always be pleasantly surprised. Or screwed.

    • Agreed... not very honest of poster to compare removing temporary redirects to that of bringing in a new crew to evaluate, repair & optimize the hardware and software components of a website like healthcare.gov.
      • Exactly. It's like the difference between building a car from scratch, and driving it off a cliff.
        Building it is a lot harder than taking it down or destroying it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Healthcare.gov isn't just a website. And these "glitches" aren't just some bugs in some code.

    • Especially if that "something new" has to tie in to other existing sites they didn't do and get info from them.

    • by tomp ( 4013 )

      The quick response isn't a reflection of how easy it is to change a page. It's a reflection of the millions of dollars government agencies have spent preparing for every potential shutdown over the past few years.

      Long before the shutdown happened, government agencies stopped doing the people's work and instead started to prepare for a lapse in funding. Government inefficiency caused by the same people who are tasked with oversight to prevent wasteful spending.

      The web sites were able to be turned on quickly,

  • by deadlydiscs ( 1505207 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:33PM (#45318951)
    for fscks sake.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:35PM (#45318965)

    Doesn't it make the assumption that there was no lead time? The shutdown had been threatened for weeks.

    Did the IT departments wait for the order to be signed before beginning any work on the updated sites or did they start the updates before the order was signed and then just flip the site over to the update version once the shutdown was confirmed?

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      Doesn't it make the assumption that there was no lead time? The shutdown had been threatened for weeks. /em>

      They probably have pre-developed a site to be displayed during the government shutdown, and a site to display during normal operation.

      Some secretary inserts a little key at their desk, turns it, and the website changes to the shutdown version.

  • by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:38PM (#45318985)

    mv index.html old_index.html ; mv no_longer_block_access_to_static_data.html index.html

    The sites that blocked by DNS wouldn't have much more to do.

    • by chill ( 34294 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:23PM (#45319243) Journal

      Except most did it via DNS redirects. Many actually turned off the servers, so they weren't serving a "Gone Fishin'" page. They changed DNS to point over to usa.gov, which remained open and hosted the static pages.

      • Except most did it via DNS redirects.

        Which I cleverly mentioned in the second line.

        Probably 1/2 to 1/3 of the data I was looking for during the shutdown was on sites that appeared to be still up, but either simply warned about the freshness of the data, or actually blocked it because of the "shutdown," or more accurately "shutdown theater."

        • by chill ( 34294 )

          The bastards at NIST actually took most of the data offline. :-) Good thing I had most of it in my own private stash, which I've since updated to have all of the SPs.

  • "Due to federal shutdown, the information on this government website is not being maintained and may be out of date"

    ..and now THIS ("Nuthin' up the sleeve..")


    PRESTO! It has disappeared!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:43PM (#45319027)
    Should we expect it to take much time to post a new notice or change some text on the front page of a website? How much does that involve the IT department assuming their front page is setup with some CMS that allows content to be posted with minimal technical effort? There is a big difference between changing the functionality of a website and slapping some notice on there with a default "page unavailable" message for none front page stuff. Heck, there can be a big difference between just changing text on a front page, and changing text that has detailed information, with the latter probably having to go through more people to check the actual content.
    • Yeah, a real non event. Coming up later, Congress hosts the first "bring your butler to work" day.

    • by minstrelmike ( 1602771 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:26PM (#45319259)

      Should we expect it to take much time to post a new notice or change some text on the front page of a website?

      Exactly. I am one of the government workers who 'shut down' our website.
      All I did was replace the index page and altered the security program to prevent working even if you still had a valid cookie.
      It took me 30 seconds to log in (from home) and undo the fixes (and most of that time was spent logging in).

      Shutdown means different things to different people. For the last shutdown, we were given two conflicting orders:
      1. Turn off the web servers
      2. Display a web page to visitors announcing we are shut down.

      /* for you manager types, I cannot serve up a web page if I have shut my web server down */

      That isn't a problem of government; it is a problem of non-techie managers freaking out and trying to one-up each other.
      I have seen similar things happen in private industry.

      • Was there any technical reason why your website needed to be taken down?

        • At some point most sites have some contact with a human individual, or the site generates reports on who has and hasn't paid taxes, fines etc. Since the individuals aren't there to react, then it is probably much easier to pull down the whole site than chop down those bits which won't function during the shutdown.

      • Thought so. A big argument back then on Slashdot from those arguing it made sense to shut down government websites was that the servers were being actually powered down to conserve power - I knew that was bullshit.

        • The servers were shutdown because no one was there to monitor them for break-ins. It's part of our security stance and something we aren't really allowed to ignore.
          • Didn't you read? The servers were *NOT* shut down. That's what the admin said - he just rendered the website unavailable. If the servers were down it wouldn't have been able to forward...

            People on Slashdot claimed that's why the servers had to be shut down. Like so many other things liberals say, they were lying or totally wrong. But it doesn't matter what they said, only if they were believed at the time... it apparently worked on you.

  • by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:46PM (#45319051)
    ... if there was a real shutdown, nobody would have been paid to put "shutdown" notices on websites.
    • by artor3 ( 1344997 )

      It's not hard to redirect to a static page. It's equivalent to turning out the lights before leaving the building.

      • ...which is why they did it for free, rather than get paid...

        Oh, wait... what you said didnt actually respond to his point? Yeah.
        • by artor3 ( 1344997 )

          You realize that they set up the redirect pages ahead of time, right? Just like the guy who turns off the lights does it while still on the clock, before actually punching out.

          It's kind of funny that you right-wingers were DEMANDING that we not pay our bills, but are simultaneously outraged that we would shut off some government services.

          • You realize that they set up the redirect pages ahead of time, right? Just like the guy who turns off the lights does it while still on the clock, before actually punching out.

            It's kind of funny that you right-wingers were DEMANDING that we not pay our bills, but are simultaneously outraged that we would shut off some government services.

            Well you do have to kind of do some fancy maneuvering to never be wrong about anything.

          • Which service was shut off, exactly?

            You seem to be missing the point. Nothing was shut off. For web pages, some pages were changed. Thats not shutting them off. For parks, people were hired to erect barriers to entry and thats not shutting them off either. So the bills keep coming in for a services that are only down "in spirit" ...

            We could go on and on about this, with you continually needing to be intentionally vague and launching personal attacks....
          • Were servers actually shut off? Domain names allowed to lapse? Anybody laid off? Bandwidth drastically reduced?

            No? Then it was just shutdown theater, not shutdown.

        • by Velex ( 120469 )

          I think what he said did respond to the point. It's like turning out the lights on the way out.

          Then again, maybe I'm just misunderstanding what GGP meant by a "real" shutdown, and I'm hoping he wasn't making a no true Scotsman fallacy.

          Now, if the building were under attack from military hardware or in the direct path of an F5 tornado, then yes, I might raise an eyebrow at spending the time to put up a page that says, "Our building is about to be destroyed and has shut down."

          It's just... you know... when yo

  • Is it really all that surprising that well established web sites with well established update procedures are easily updated? A lot of it probably consists of collecting any updated information and running some script to update the web site. Someone is no doubt tasked with doing this as regular part of their job.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 03, 2013 @02:54PM (#45319105)

    I noticed that within hours after the shutdown ended, foxnews.com was featuring stories about Benghazi again ("the questions Americans STILL want answers for!") using their rather large top headline font.

    Stories about the shutdown/re-opening/GOP infighting were completely buried for days afterwards.

  • dumb comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:15PM (#45319209) Journal

    This is a ridiculous comparison. The data are from two completely different proceedures, from a technical perspective.

    Taking a functional government website, like say Astronomy Picture of the Day [nasa.gov]

    To make it 'not work' all they have to do is whip up a basic "this site shutdown due to..." with a few HTML tags and its is "taken down due to the shutdown"

    That's all...a few lines of HTML and a redirect!

    Second, the criticism of the Obamacare website in the media is not representative of the ***ACTUALL*** technical problems.

    Politics aside, the website problems were **routine IT work**...its not an excuse, but **management** is to blame for not scheduling testing with enough time before rollout...

    So, this data is doubly unusuable...but it makes sense...

    **of course** sites like Astronomy Picture of the Day were up in 24 hrs after the shutdown lifted!!!!! It just took a few lines of code!

  • by feenberg ( 201582 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @04:55PM (#45319825)

    There is a great misunderstanding in all these comments. The question isn't "How long does it take to change 3 lines of code", of course that only takes a few minutes. The question is: "How long does permission to change 3 lines of code take to wend its way through the agency from the Secretary to the contractor?" That typically takes weeks or months, but in this case was done quickly because no one between the Secretary and the coder thought to interfere. That is very unusual. Another question (not answered) is how long does it take for a request from the coder to the Secretary? Typically that would be "forever", which is why most things never get done. It would help if someone below the secretary were authorized to make a decision, but typically that isn't the case.

  • A year ago we learned that a private company like Apple "for technical reasons" [slashdot.org] needed 14 days to update a page with a simple text message. They sought to delay complying with the UK court order that would expose lies that had hurt Samsung.

    Government websites, despite exhibiting worst-of-the-worst bureaucracy known to all of us, now show a tangible "worst case" upper bound. Great! now we can point all private companies' lying lawyers to that and ask why the private sector is suddenly 7 times slower.

  • All the had to do is do a redirect from all to a "sorry charlie" page via their load balancer or Akamai. Then simply undo it later. Why it's so easy EVEN a Windows guy could have done it.

A bug in the code is worth two in the documentation.