Passport Database Outage: 'We Regret The Inconvenience' - InformationWeek

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Passport Database Outage: 'We Regret The Inconvenience'
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asksqn
IW Pick
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 2:07:13 PM
Another day, another glitch
As government FUBARs go, the only event bigger than this one remains the Obamacare exchanges debacle from last October.  But since it only affects a tiny majority of those who have the disposable income/employer largesse for international travel expenses, I don't expect to see a lot of outrage coming from anyone but stranded travelers.  
wwu123
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wwu123,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/30/2014 | 7:11:40 PM
Re: Another day, another glitch
My wife lost her green card while we were on vacation in Europe, and has not been able to return home for more than a week now.  Yes, we are just inconvenienced stranded travelers and can afford it, having already lost thousands with her purse contents and running around trying to replace travel documents.  However, my three-year-old will not have a mother for nearly a month, as now we expect it will be that long before my wife is finally able to come home to the U.S.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/31/2014 | 11:34:55 AM
Re: Another day, another glitch
Wow. Do attibute your wife's situation to the computer problem? Sounds like the paperwork issues can be tough to begin with.
anon9899091174
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anon9899091174,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/31/2014 | 2:50:33 PM
Re: Another day, another glitch
Yes, wife's situation is directly a result of the database crash.  The ironic thing is that it is not about the paperwork, we submitted the extensive paperwork to the U.S. embassy, which included documentation like her Japan passport and a photocopy of the lost green card, and human beings at the embassy reviewed her paperwork, interviewed her, and agreed she was who she identified herself as, and indeed a U.S. resident (i.e. not a terrorist).  So they approved her for the transportation letter.

But the computer must do some mandatory security check, before a simple letter can be printed.  But my wife has already been vetted and approved by actual human Americans with brains.

I'm not sure why some comments are politicizing this, I'm sure these systems were in place before the current administration.  This is more about IT and automation and having logical backup procedures.  The hundreds of thousands of non-Americans visiting, they're waiting at home and they can  be inconvenienced.  The few hundred U.S. citizens and residents stranded abroad, it doesn't take much manual procedures to vet them and let them come home, all of them have been vetted at embassies, as opposed to making them struggle day-by-day to procure lodging, cash, basic communications while in a foreign country.

Funnily, any other Japan passport-holder can enter the U.S. just fine, without a visa.  But my wife who is a Japan passport-holder who actually lives in the U.S. cannot.  And weirdly the airlines actually check your passport AND green-card when you LEAVE the U.S., it's not like the same airline that denies you boarding to return hasn't already verified your docs just a few days earlier.
LESSGOV2014
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LESSGOV2014,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/31/2014 | 1:00:29 PM
Re: Another day, another glitch
Billions spent annually with little or no IT project planning or testing until the USERS get it! Not a smidgen of waste, mismangement or incompetence here to look at!! Bet there are many more IT nightmares coming at other agencies too, and they want to control MORE aspects of our lives with Obamacare!
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2014 | 2:14:02 PM
The cloud cures all solution
I meant to mention that one of the people posting on Facebook helpfully noted that the whole problem could be solved by shipping the whole database to the Amazon cloud and spinning up a few thousand extra servers to handle the load.

"I wish that could be the solution for everything," was the reaction from ScaleArc CTO Singh when I bounced that one off him. Short version of why it's not the real answer is that strategy works great for certain applications, particularly web apps, but even then getting the architecture right takes a lot of work. The cloud is not a quick fix.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2014 | 4:15:06 PM
Re: The cloud cures all solution
Oracle is looking to be a cloud player, this seems like a golden opportunity for the company to generate some good press and good will by jumping in and doing what needs to be done to get the database up and running 100%.
tekedge
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tekedge,
User Rank: Moderator
7/31/2014 | 10:24:07 PM
Re: The cloud cures all solution
Yeah I agree strike when the iron is hot
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2014 | 2:33:08 PM
Watchlist
What's most worrisome is if someone on the terrorism watchlist were able to slip in because of manual processes. It's unfortunate that people are stranded, but security has to preempt convenience.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2014 | 3:30:23 PM
Re: Watchlist
@Lorna, I tend to agree with you. While it's a significant (and possibly avoidable, as Dave mentions) inconvenience for the stranded travelers, I'm sure that given the choice, most would favor security over inconvenience.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2014 | 4:29:46 PM
Re: Watchlist
Right, plus once you've built your whole process around a digital system, it's difficult to revert to paper forms and rubber stamps. If they tried to do so, there would be screwups as a result and bigger news if terrorists slipped into the country during the period of confusion.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 1:44:11 PM
Re: Watchlist
Having been thru something very similar to this, I definitely do not agree with you. About 10 years ago, after they started the watchlist system, I was returning to Chicago airport from Finland business trip. Got off plane, had 3 hours before my connecting flight. All I had to do was go thru customs and then wait.

Right when I got to the front of line, their system that checks watchlist failed at the NATIONAL level. Being IT, I wasn't initially concerned because everyone has some redundancy and backup processes in place, right? Not so fast. After standing in line for 3 hours, with now 1000 people in line behind me, I started getting irritated and asked them what backup plan they had in place in case system was not coming up. There was NONE, as far as they were concerned we could stand there with no food or water forever. To go to bathroom you lost your place in line. Since I had missed my flight already and had only 3 hours of sleep in last 24 hours, I left my place in line to get water and use bathroom, this was about 9pm at night. I laid down on bench in customs terminal and closed my eyes to rest. I woke up at 11pm to an empty terminal, sometime between 9-11 the system came up. So luckily I got a 1 way rental car and drove to Green Bay, arriving home at 2:30am, with no luggage of course. How I stayed awake during that drive I still don't know.

Now here is the good part: The system that crashed only dealt with domestic passengers, not people from other countries with Visa's. This really nice lady from Denmark I sat next to on plane went right thru customs with no issues, only people from USA were stuck.

Now don't tell me you needed the system for security purposes. I had my drivers license, my intinery showed I left a week ago for Finland and was returning home. A mental midget could figure out I was not a terrorist, along with everyone else in line. The government was just too damn incompetent to have ANY plan in place in case that system was offline. Were all these people supposed to starve to death (there is no food court in customs terminal where you get off) in the name of national security? The customs people sure didn't care. 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2014 | 6:17:05 PM
Lack of cloud understanding is the least of their problems
They should have had a disaster recovery system in the cloud, accessible by offices anywhere in the world. To explain that this application can't be easily moved to the cloud is a dodge, indicating they don't understand either recovery issues or cloud comuting very well. But that goes without saying, given the performance reliability we're witnessing here.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2014 | 6:39:14 PM
Re: Lack of cloud understanding is the least of their problems
If not cloud per se, they should have had a backup system or replica, sure. Easy to say, not necessarily easy to fit into the budget.
pdembry950
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pdembry950,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/31/2014 | 1:17:23 PM
Easier way to get back
Fly to Mexico and just come across the border :-)
tekedge
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tekedge,
User Rank: Moderator
7/31/2014 | 10:20:06 PM
Passport Database Outage
Surprising there was no back up plan.


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