Health Care Debate Slows House Web Form System

Posted August 14, 2009 at 11:27am

A spike in the number of constituents e-mailing Members through their House.gov Web sites has caused a virtual traffic jam this week, slowing down the system and preventing many users from sending a Web-based e-mail to their Member.

Jeff Ventura, spokesman for Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard, compared the situation to a busy phone line.

“The reality is plenty of e-mails are going through that system,— he said. “It’s just [from] those people who keep trying and trying and trying.—

The increase is a repeat of last fall, when Congress’ consideration of a bailout bill for the financial industry spurred thousands of people to contact their Member of Congress. The increase in Web traffic overloaded the House’s servers, and the main House.gov page was almost impossible to load during the chamber’s vote on the bill.

This time, Congress’ plans for health care reform have energized the masses, with correspondence from constituents and advocacy groups flooding Members’ offices.

Some upgrades to the system, however, have helped prevent a repeat of last fall, Ventura said. Officials have separated the form-based e-mail from the House.gov site; each are run off different servers. Consequently, the House.gov domain is unaffected.

The House’s e-mail system — also on different servers — is also working normally, according to Ventura.

Instead, the problem is focused on the form-based e-mail embedded into a Member’s Web site and on the main House.gov site. Ventura said engineers are currently trying to fix the problem.

CAO officials had planned to upgrade the Web form system during the August recess — a period they thought would bring less Web traffic. They had hoped to increase the amount of traffic the system could handle.

But health care has thrown a wrench in those plans. Ventura said the upgrade is still planned, but he did not know when it would be completed.

“This is one of those situations where the timing of the proposed upgrade seemed like it would make a lot of sense,— he said. “But the reality of it is even though Members are not here, the issue is at the forefront of debate throughout the nation.—

The Senate, however, does not appear to be having any problems with its Web forms. An e-mail sent through the Web site of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) — who has encountered passionate crowds at town halls in his district — appeared to work fine.

A staffer in the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms’ office also said the system was working fine. Like the House, the Senate separates its regular e-mail, Web sites and form-based e-mail onto different servers.

Though the Senate has also seen a spike in Web traffic, he said, it is part of the ebb and flow of the legislative session.

“This is not anything remarkable,— he said.