What's Up With The Kind-Of Sort-Of Shutdown of Government Websites?

Michelle Obama forgot how to tweet because of the shutdown. Luckily, the Post Office is unaffected, so she'll be sending her latest updates in the mail.Credit: Barack Obama / Foter / CC BY-NC-SAAs threatened, during the government shutdown many federal agencies have sent their websites the same way as the dodo bird and the non-essential government worker. Sort of.

“Many government Web sites will be down,” warned The Washington Post hours before the shutdown began. Even First Lady Michelle Obama asserted that her Twitter account would fall victim to the shutdown. It has not been updated since. Numerous sources gnashed their teeth over the possibility of the National Zoo's “Panda Cam” going dark. It did. However, as Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute points out, there was no apparent consistent action among agencies:

It’s a bit hard to make sense of why some sites remain up (some with a “no new updates” banner) while others are redirected to a shutdown notice page—and in many cases it’s puzzling why a shutdown would be necessary at all.

Among his examples are NASA.gov, which redirects to a notice that the government shutdown has rendered the site unavailable. However, he poked around and found that various subdomains still work. “Still weirder,” Sanchez says, is the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) site, which previews its normal content, but suddenly snaps to a notice that prevents anyone from using the site. He points out “that means… their servers are still up and running and actually serving all the same content. In fact they’re serving more content."

Mike Masnick of Techdirt.com writes, “It's difficult to see how this helps anyone at all. But it does yet a good job (yet again) of demonstrating that logic and bureaucracy don't often go well together.”

According to a memorandum issued by the Office of the President, whether the digital embargoes help anyone or not is not the issue. In fact, whether “the cost of shutting down a website exceeds the cost of maintaining services” is of no significance.

There are practical explanations. Servers and websites do not run themselves. If they are to remain active, security and other features must be maintained. Likewise, any sites with active fill-out forms could lead to an overflow for agencies once the shutdown ends.

Nevertheless, Sanchez suggests NASA and the FTC may also be engaging in a virtual “Washington Monument Syndrome” to parallel the tactic of blocking the most visible government services like national parks and war memorials. The same is likely true for the First Lady's twitter account, which incurs no cost to the government whatsoever. 

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Servers and websites do not run themselves.

    Well designed ones do.

  • CE||

    Someone has to feed teh squirrels.

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  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    Apparently, they can't work competently and they can't not work competently.

  • Sevo||

    "and in many cases it’s puzzling why a shutdown would be necessary at all."
    No it isn't. They can clam the 'shutdown' is causing great difficulties. And they can spend money we don't have making sure there are difficulties.

  • JD the elder||

    This. It is all theater. Yes, there are some services like online form submissions that might eventually run into trouble if they ran forever without human intervention, and in general if you have to walk away from something you want to make sure you shut it down cleanly. But for the majority of fairly static websites, and an outage you don't expect to last more than a few days? Theater.

  • Almanian!||

    Derp

    Fuck tha gummint

  • ||

    Nevertheless, Sanchez suggests NASA and the FTC are may also be engaging in a virtual “Washington Monument Syndrome” to parallel the tactic of blocking the most visible government services like national parks and war memorials.

    May? They unquestionably are. Properly designed and set up websites, especially ones that only serve up content, require only sporadic maintenance and can run just fine by themselves.

    This is just more government bullshit, and it's completely obvious, yet like cops saying they don't have quotas yet everyone knows they do, people just let it slide. I don't get why people are ok being blatantly lied to.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Even First Lady Michelle Obama asserted that her Twitter account would fall victim to the shutdown. It has not been updated since.

    Wait, how much does Twitter charge per tweet?

  • Swamp Think||

    If Momma's not happy nobody is happy.

  • Libertymike||

    Given Momma's lack of pulchritude, nobody really can ever truly be happy.

  • Brian||

    I think Michelle charges the tax payers directly for her time on that.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Every tweet requires an extra hour of vacation time in overseas.

  • Paul.||

    They fired her tweetmeister. Oh, you thought Michele Obama did her own tweets.

    Do you even watch Veep?

  • Swamp Think||

    I guess Michelle is too busy in the WH kitchen making baloney sandwiches for POTUS and the girls. Because, surely, the WH chef is non-essential.

  • CE||

    Back in the day (like 1880s), the entire White House staff was paid personally by the President, out of his own salary.

  • wadair||

    It's like she's giving up tweeting for lent.

  • Paul.||

    their servers are still up and running and actually serving all the same content. In fact they’re serving more content."

    When you have web services running, to 'shut them down' requires... more content, more work.

    We run a sharepoint site here at work. I shudder to think the work and overtime that would be required to 'turn it off'.

    To be fair, sure, if you have employees that create a "daily reflection" section where you quote someone with a vaguely sounding Hindu name, no those won't get updated. But most website functionality runs on autopilot. It doesn't require furious, continuous typing from a Computer Operator to make web pages continue to display.

  • CE||

    But you can do a lookup table with an indexed offset of a bunch of Confucius sayings, so no one really needs to update that either.

  • Brian||

    It’s a bit hard to make sense of why some sites remain up (some with a “no new updates” banner) while others are redirected to a shutdown notice page—and in many cases it’s puzzling why a shutdown would be necessary at all.

    It's only hard because people imagine the government run like some well-tuned, interconnected machine, were the president or congress makes a decision, and the system reacts instantaneously and correctly.

    Instead, it's a spread out bureaucracy operated by people who couldn't/wouldn't want to work in a real job. Ask any two of them, or two agencies, or whatever, with the same job, position, priority, essentiality, etc., what they're supposed to be doing, and they'll both disagree, every time.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    This is the same government that expended more money to "shut down" open air monuments.

  • Paul.||

    Barriers to public property don't erect themselves.

  • Libertymike||

    Looking for an update:

    have you claimed your Price is Right Showcase package which was awarded to you in the Friedman thread earlier today?

  • PD Quig||

    And shut down privately-run campgrounds and campsites that were paying rent to the government.

    Fucking dicks all need a 34" Louisville slugger applied to various body parts.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    The same is likely true for the First Lady's twitter account, which incurs no cost to the government whatsoever.

    Likely?

  • Paul.||

    There are practical explanations. Servers and websites do not run themselves. If they are to remain active, security and other features must be maintained. Likewise, any sites with active fill-out forms could lead to an overflow for agencies once the shutdown ends.

    Yes and no. If there's a page saying, "Sorry, the Gubmint be shut down" there's a server running somewhere to serve that page up".

    By 'not running themselves' no, servers break, fail and need occasional patching. New servers are brought online, server/san capacity is increased, backups are managed and server failures have to be dealt with.

    Backlogs of data can occur, but oftentimes, this results in just more work needing to be done when the non-essential employees get back.

    Some services can't abide a backlog, some will. Those that can't abide a backlog will have to have services shut off or blocked off- ironically requiring extra time and effort.

  • Bryan C||

    Sure. Servers do break, and fail, and need patching. But if you're doing it right, these are rare occurrences that can be handled by a skeleton staff and automation. I'd like to think that all the government's sysadmins aren't as incompetent as the ones who designed the Obamacare sites.

    "Some services can't abide a backlog, some will. Those that can't abide a backlog will have to have services shut off or blocked off- ironically requiring extra time and effort."

    True. But there's no rhyme or reason to the sites which have been shut down and those which are still running. And, to be honest, I'm way beyond giving these guys the benefit of the doubt.

  • Warrren||

    Why can't the parks people hire people to lay on the ground so no one can even see the grass. That would be stimulus-worthy.

  • #||

    A more general question would be why are blogosphere democrats losing it over a handful of non essential government activities being shut down for a few days? Why so butt hurt? Of all the things to get upset about this can't all be that important. They can't all be federal employees.

  • Warrren||

    It's a slippery slope! And I don't mean a lubed up Mulan, neither!

  • Ann N||

    I saw that Disney movie. She was very brave. Not sure what you mean tho.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Speaking of fucking up websites, what have you done now? The main page seems to be in some sort terminal download mode.

    Nice work.

  • Brandon||

    It's because of the shutdown.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Do I have to tell government how to do propaganda properly, too??

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Speaking of shutdown theater; I went to town for breakfast, and there was an article in the Billings paper about the Park Service closing fishing access points on the Bighorn River. I'm pretty sure these are not manned sites. They are just dirt boat ramps on public land. They would have to send somebody out there to put up "No Fishing" signs.

    What a bunch of retards.

  • Root Boy||

    Did you see the scenic overlooks along the GW Parkway are blocked off - there is absolutely nothing there except parking and on and off ramps.

    Heard stories of a shooting range in Sumter NF closed off as well. It's normally unmanned.

  • Swamp Think||

    State owned overlooks must be closed to prevent citizens from flinging themselves of them in a fit of shutdown madness.

  • montana mike||

    In Montana state FWP takes care of most of the fiashing accesses....wouldn't put anything past the Asshat in Chief and his posse though.

  • montana mike||

    fishing

  • CE||

    Why would the First Lady's Twitter feed stop? Isn't Twitter a free service, hosted by a private company? And isn't "First Lady" a nonsalaried position (albeit with the largest expense account on Earth)?

    So how does Her not tweeting save anyone any federal money?

  • Brandon||

    Her not tweeting deprives the public of her brilliance, punishing them for allowing her expense account to be questioned.

  • Brandon||

    IOW, it's an egomaniacal temper tantrum.

  • A Secret Band of Robbers||

    Because @MichelleObama is a team of 7 White House PR flacks who meet daily to whiteboard ideas, plus 10 interns who draft and post the actual tweets. Michelle Obama checks in every 8 weeks if she's in town.

    Two of the interns were considered non-essential, and on Monday they decided that shutting down the account would be totally baller and would get everyone fired up.

  • Laird||

    I'm sure that her 2 million fake followers are as upset about this as I am.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Has anyone considered the possibility that these other sites had to be shutdown to free up indispensable resources for the Barrycare exchanges? You think that Gopher backbone runs itself?

  • Agammamon||

    "Even First Lady Michelle Obama asserted that her Twitter account would fall victim to the shutdown."

    Wait, isn't Twitter *free*. Is Michelle Obama *admitting* that the government PAYS someone to twit in the first lady's name?

  • montana mike||

    it's a given..

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Who goes on a government website unless they absolutely have to?

  • Jurgis Rudkus||

    If a government website shut down and nobody noticed, did it really shut down?

    Google goes down for four minutes and it disrupts global traffic.

    All the govt websites are out of action for days.....never even noticed.

  • Ann N||

    good point, although you do seem to be compartmentalizing govt and google.

    they are on the same team after all. taxless barons who spy on the public, and share info.

  • Classicist||

    The shutdown pages are meant to symbolize what the world looks like when you can't pay for things. Could they leave the sites open with modest, automated security protocols up and running? Yeah, sure. But the point is that when the government isn't able to pay for services, you don't get to enjoy those services.

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