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Obama Talks, Congressional Websites Crash

Several websites were unavailable or sluggish after an overwhelming public response to the president's call for Congress to resolve debt ceiling issues.

Obama's Tech Tools
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The overwhelming public response to Obama's speech Monday night crashed some Congressional websites, which couldn't handle the onslaught of traffic.

The website for House Speaker John Boehner was unavailable for a period of time Monday night and parts of Tuesday, according to Salley Wood, a spokesperson for the Committee on House Administration. Other sites also were unavailable or slow to respond, she said, though she did not divulge specific information about which Congressional sites they were.

President Obama gave a televised speech Monday night about solutions to a Congressional stalemate over how to solve the U.S. debt-ceiling crisis, in which he called for a balanced approach to reducing the deficit. If an agreement is not reached in less than a week, the United States may have to default on loans, resulting in global credit ramifications. House Speaker Boehner is at odds with the president over how to solve the crisis and has offered an opposing plan.

Wood said that the sites that went down were hosted not by the House's own data center, but by outside vendors, which she did not name. The House worked with the vendors responsible for those sites and by Wednesday early afternoon they were all back online, she added.

House switchboards also experienced double the number of calls per hour than normal, Wood said. Generally, the House receives 20,000 calls per hour; Monday night into Tuesday, it experienced 40,000 calls per hour. As a point of comparison, during the healthcare debates, the House switchboard received 50,000 calls per hour, she said.

By Wednesday Wood said calls into the general House switchboard had returned to normal.

However, some Congressional switchboards still seemed to be experiencing trouble. A call to Speaker Boehner's office was put on hold for several minutes before reaching a general mailbox that was unable to take any more messages. Several calls to the U.S. Capitol Switchboard with the intent of reaching the U.S. Senate to confirm any website troubles there did not go through.

The White House, too, noted an unusually high amount of email and activity on its social networks in response to the speech in a blog post in which it also noted reports of website trouble due to large amounts of traffic.

Email to the White House came in at nearly five times the normal rate after Obama's speech, and the White House switchboard did experience an increase in calls, though it "functioned normally throughout the day" contrary to some reports, according to the post, attributed to White House staffer Macon Phillips.

Twitter users also actively responded to the speech, with many posting excerpts of the speech that the White House tweeted on the @White House account to their own feeds, he said in the post.

What industry can teach government about IT innovation and efficiency. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: Federal agencies have to shift from annual IT security assessments to continuous monitoring of their risks. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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