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Some Interior sites back after two-month shutdown


By Linda Rosencrance

(IDG) -- After being shuttered for more than two months by a court order, about 40 percent of the U.S. Department of the Interior's (DOI) Web sites are back online.

Some officials at the National Park Service were rejoicing that their Parknet Web site is up and running again. INFOCENTER
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"It was a living hell," said Park Service spokesman David Barna. "In the winter, we have 700,000 hits a day on our Web site from people trying to plan vacations, students doing reports, and professors and scientists trying to access environmental data. We have 1.2 million hits a day in the summer. People weren't able to do that when we were shut down."

The DOI's Web sites, and the agencies under its authority, were shut down in December after a federal judge found that the DOI was in violation of a court order issued two years ago that required the agency to improve its managing of accounts in the Individual Indian Monies Trust. The trust fund was established to compensate American Indians for the taking of their tribal lands by the U.S. government in the 19th century. The judge ruled that the DOI didn't adequately secure the trust data and ordered the department's computers disconnected until they were adequately secured.

The DOI's Web site, as well as the sites of most of its agencies were shut down.

Among its problems, said Barna, the agency hires about 8,000 seasonal employees for the summer, all of whom apply online.

"Most of that is done over Christmas break, when college students are home," he said. "We were shut down during that period."

Barna said his agency couldn't pay its contractors, many of whom were looking for payments for the 2001 tax year, because all payments are made electronically.

Paying employees, which is also done electronically, was also difficult, he said.

"We had to go back to using paper timecards and FedExing them to our service center in Denver. It took 100 employees to do the payroll by hand," Barna said. "But we didn't pay any overtime or holiday pay during that time. Now, we have to go back and do that."

Barna said that without e-mail, the agency increased the mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service, which presented its own set of problems.

"Because our mail goes through the Brentwood processing center [in Washington], which tested positive for anthrax, all our mail is irradiated, but the machines were set so high they cooked the mail, basically destroying it. The letters just fell apart," Barna said. "But I think they must have turned the machines down, because now the letters are just yellow."

About 40 percent of Interior Department Web sites are now back online, said Tianna Chattin, a DOI spokeswoman.

One of the sites that remains unconnected to the Internet is that of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, the agency has a temporary Web site where it posts the latest news releases.

A spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service said that its Web site usually gets about 200,000 hits a day. With the site down, the agency's 14 public relations staff members have been fielding far more telephone calls than usual.

"Overall, it's been very inconvenient for the public and more expensive for the agency to do business. We've had to do more faxing and mailing of information that people were able to get at our Web site." said Rachel Levin, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Levin couldn't say how much the Web shutdown is costing the agency, nor did she know when the Web site would be back online.

Levin also said the agency's outreach efforts have been stymied because of a lack of access to e-mail. "We were trying to get out information to migratory bird hunters but couldn't reach everyone we normally would," she said.

"We forget how much we rely on the Internet," concluded the Park Service's Barna.


• Department of the Interior
• National Park Service
• Fish & Wildlife Service

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