Senate E-Nightmares

Posted January 17, 2003 at 3:29pm

The beginning of the 108th Congress hasn’t been without tumult for the Senate e-mail system. Staffers are complaining that e-mails from outside the Senate have been delayed from 15 minutes to 24 hours.

A message posted on Webster, the Senate’s intranet site, informed staff that the Sergeant-at-Arms office is working with teams from Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft to address the problem.

“Although, the final cause has not been identified, the Networks Operations staff have reported heavy traffic on the network, that can easily account for some of the slowdown,” the message read.

“The stuff was just going out into nowheresville,” a Democratic press secretary said of the delayed or lost e-mails. “They don’t know what the problem is, and it’s not getting better.”

Many complain that they only get a few e-mail “dumps” a day.

“What’s been happening is every couple of hours 19 to 20 messages will pop up. Sometimes they come a day late,” said a senior Democratic aide. “It’s systemic, ongoing, and it’s hampering our ability to get things done.”

The Sergeant-at-Arms office couldn’t be reached for comment.

For years the Senate has been using an outdated e-mail program, Lotus cc: Mail, and is in the process of installing Microsoft Outlook. The Webster message implied that the current problems are related to the conversion.

“We are well aware that these problems hamper your ability to do the work of the Senate and serve your constituents,” the message said.

The problem was amplified by an e-mail sent from the Democratic Policy Committee, which due to a computer malfunction began looping around the Senate. Many Democratic staffers reported getting the message 300-1,000 times. The e-mail was sent to alert Democratic Senators of available floor time, but even hundreds of duplicate e-mails didn’t do the job.

“Because of the original e-mail problem, it was at least 24 hours late,” the Democratic press secretary said.

— Suzanne Nelson