Nail-biting week for the Census Bureau

It's been a tough week for the Census Bureau. First, the agency's e-mail system crashed for five-and-a-half days. Then snow swept in on Tuesday, shutting down the federal government for two days, just weeks before the 2000 decennial count is scheduled to begin.

On Saturday morning, the e-mail system in the public affairs office and several other offices went out. The system was "corrupted" when Medialink, an online subscription service that tracks news coverage, generated more than 50,000 copies of the same e-mail to two employees in the office. The overload used up more than four gigabits and made the system unstable.

Richard Swartz, the Census' acting chief information officer, said Thursday that the system was not "hacked" and that Medialink was investigating the incident.

"Basically, the database got corrupted and we had to rebuild the database," Swartz said.

The system was shut down on Monday morning while workers attempted to fix it. Some employees even came to work on Tuesday, battling the snow to get to the Census offices in Suitland, Md.

Finally, the system was back up at about 1 p.m. on Thursday to the relief of those working in the Census' public and congressional affairs offices and its equal employment office.

Systems officials said the offices are one of the last in the Census using cc:Mail — a Lotus product that has been discontinued.

"We've known for some time that cc:Mail is not a full industrial strength for an organization of our size," Swartz said.

The offices are waiting to be converted to the more updated Lotus Mail system. However, it appears that after this week, it won't be soon enough for Census.

The first questionnaires will be mailed in early March. At stake is about $185 billion in federal aid distributed to states, cities and local governments, as well as the redrawing of congressional districts based on population.

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