The Government Can't Even Figure Out How To Shut Down Its Websites In A Reasonable Way
from the government-shutdown-oddities dept
With the government shutdown, you have may have come across a variety of oddities involving various government agency websites that were completely taken offline. This seems strange. Yes, the government is shut down, but does that really mean they need to turn off their web servers as well, even the purely informational ones? I could see them just leaving them static without updating them, but to completely block them just seems… odd. Even odder is that not all websites are down and some, such as the FTC’s website appears to be fully up, including fully loading a page… only to then redirect you to a page that says it’s down. Julian Sanchez, over at Cato, explores the various oddities of government domains that are either up or down — or something in between.
For agencies that directly run their own Web sites on in-house servers, shutting down might make sense if the agency’s “essential” and “inessential” systems are suitably segregated. Running the site in those cases eats up electricity and bandwidth that the agency is paying for, not to mention the IT and security personnel who need to monitor the site for attacks and other problems. Fair enough in those cases. But those functions are, at least in the private sector, often outsourced and paid for up front: if you’ve contracted with an outside firm to host your site, shutting it down for a few days or weeks may not save any money at all. And that might indeed explain why some goverment sites remain operational, even though they don’t exactly seem “essential,” while others have been pulled down.
That doesn’t seem to account for some of the weird patterns we see, however. The main page at NASA.gov redirects to a page saying the site is unavailable, but lots of subdomains that, however cool, seem “inessential” remain up and running: the “Solar System Exploration” page at solarsystem.nasa.gov; the Climate Kids website at climatekids.nasa.gov; and the large photo archive at images.jsc.nasa.gov, to name a few. There are any number of good reasons some of those subdomains might be hosted separately, and therefore unaffected by the shutdown—but it seems odd they can keep all of these running without additional expenditures, yet aren’t able to redirect to a co-located mirror of the landing page.
He also takes on the issue of the FTC redirect, in which he notes that the redirect after loading the full page shows that they’re not saving any money at all this way, meaning it makes absolutely no sense at all.
Still weirder is the status of the Federal Trade Commission’s site. Browse to any of their pages and you’ll see, for a split second, the full content of the page you want—only to be redirected to a shutdown notice page also hosted at FTC.gov. But that means… their servers are still up and running and actually serving all the same content. In fact they’re serving more content: first the real page, then the shutdown notice page. If you’re using Firefox or Chrome and don’t mind browsing in HTML-cluttered text, you can even use this link to navigate to the FTC site map and navigate from page to page in source-code view without triggering the redirect. Again, it’s entirely possible I’m missing something, but if the full site is actually still running, it’s hard to see how a redirect after the real page is served could be avoiding any expenditures.
Sanchez tries to piece together why this might be happening, and points to a White House memo which explicitly says that agencies should shut stuff down even if it’s cheaper to keep them online:
The determination of which services continue during an appropriations lapse is not affected by whether the costs of shutdown exceed the costs of maintaining services…
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.