NARA faulted for Internet connection outage that affected staff and public



An Internet connection blackout at the National Archives and Records Administration cut off all staff access to the Web and all public access to agency websites for 32 hours, according to a newly-disclosed report from the archives’ Inspector General Paul Brachfeld.

The outage occurred in September 2011, but was only recently disclosed publicly by the NARA inspector general. The failed Internet connection due to a cut fiber-optic cable “significantly affected” NARA operations and hampered “critical” staff work during the period, Brachfeld wrote in a management letter about the incident that was published on his office’s website on an unspecified recent date.

The outage also apparently hampered members of the public who unexpectedly lost access to the NARA website.

“NARA’s Internet outage came at a bad time for my research,” Jordan Grant posted on Twitter on Sept. 14. He added that he appreciated the agency’s apologies for the situation.

NARA could have avoided, or at least mitigated, those damaging effects if the agency previously had addressed the need for redundant connections to the Internet, the inspector general wrote in the letter.

“NARA officials overseeing the network architecture should have known the design of the network created a single point of failure, and taken action to address this risk before NARA's mission and business capabilities were impacted,” Brachfeld wrote in the management letter. The letter was dated October 13, 2011 but only recently was published on the agency’s website.

A NARA official said on Jan. 24 that the agency is obtaining price estimates for installation of an additional Internet connection line that would be a backup connection. Before this incident, NARA had not lost Internet connecticut in the last 15 years, said Chuck Piercy, business suppert services executive for NARA.

"Budgets are tight, but this is a priority for us," Piercy said. "We would put another connection in here that would keep everything running."

Piercy said the outage did not cause any permanent damage to the archives' holdings or platforms. Furthermore, he added, the utility company responsible for accidentally cutting the cable made a reimbursement payment to the agency.

The inspector general offered additional details on the incident in his management letter.

“On September 13, 2011 NARA experienced an Internet outage from a cut fiber-optic cable lasting approximately 32 hours and significantly affecting NARA's operations,” Brachfeld wrote. “During that time, NARA staff were not able to access home and shared drives, email, the Internet, and numerous critical applications needed to perform their jobs.”

In addition, NARA's customers and members of the public were not able to access agency services because the outage affected NARA's external websites as well, Brachfeld added.

The incident indicated that NARA does not have a backup connection to restore Internet and other services within a timely manner, Brachfeld wrote. He said he would audit the connections and continuity of operations functions in the coming weeks.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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