Server Glitch Hits House E-mail Accounts

Posted July 25, 2007 at 6:23pm

House e-mail server problems have left thousands of Capitol Hill staffers wringing their hands in frustration over the past two weeks as Congress has moved into its annual pre-August legislative crunch time.

Of about 20,000 e-mail accounts that the Chief Administrative Officer has responsibility for in the House, a total of about 7,000 have experienced delays for hours at a time due to an ongoing server glitch.

“Our systems engineers are aware that, over the last two weeks, some of House users have been experiencing a noticeable slowdown in e-mail functionality,” Jeff Ventura, a spokesman for the CAO’s office, said. “Fixing this problem is a top priority for the CAO.”

Since the problems have been intermittent and House e-mail addresses are kept on multiple servers, not more than 2,400 accounts have been affected at any one time, Ventura said.

Although the exact cause of the problem has yet to be pinpointed, Ventura said the slow-downs most likely are the unexpected result of routine server software upgrades that the CAO’s office had been working on with engineers from Microsoft Corp. before the e-mail issues began July 16.

Ventura said the e-mail accounts that have been affected are random and span the entire House organization.

House Administration Committee spokesman Kyle Anderson said the panel has received complaints from numerous offices about the problem and even Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office has not escaped the glitch.

One House GOP leadership aide estimated that e-mail service in his office has gone down three to four times in the past two weeks.

“It’s extremely inconvenient,” he said.

Becky Daugherty, spokeswoman for the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, who oversees that chamber’s e-mail system, said the Senate is not experiencing any e-mail delays similar to those affecting the House.

Anderson said the House has moved its critical functions away from some servers that have gone down but the good news is that e-mails have not been lost because of the server problem.

“When they re-establish communication, all the e-mails upload, all the messages are being queued,” he said.

Since the issue developed last week, a special team from Microsoft’s corporate headquarters has been flown in to help assess the problem.

The House is receiving “round-the-clock troubleshooting by two-dozen Microsoft engineers and CAO technicians,” Ventura said. “It has been determined that the issue is not related to any breach of security or attributable to any sort of malicious code or virus. … We are waiting on a report from the Microsoft team that should be out at the end of the week to figure out if we can isolate the problem.”

In the meantime, he said, “some temporary measures have already alleviated the problem and, when the issue is fully resolved, the CAO will notify all affected users.”

But one frustrated GOP aide said the timing for such a technical glitch couldn’t be worse.

“One might assume that during one of the few weeks this Congress isn’t dedicated to re-naming post offices, the focus of the CAO would be on ensuring that Members and staff are able to do their jobs,” the aide said. “Now, every time I check my e-mail, I do it with my fingers crossed.”

“We are taking this very seriously and taking the steps necessary to have this resolved on a permanent basis,” Anderson said.