Constituent e-mails to House clog system

Overwhelming interest in the debate over healthcare legislation has clogged the House system that allows constituents to send e-mails to their members directly through the House website and lawmaker Web pages.

“It’s certainly healthcare-related,” said Jeff Ventura, spokesman for the chief administrative officer (CAO), who oversees the house websites and technological upkeep.

And it’s not only individuals filling out the “write-your-representative” form that are slowing the system. It’s advocacy groups as well.

“We do know that there are advocacy groups that send e-mail in bulk,” Ventura said. “They cue up a bunch of [the forms] and they have programs that basically fill them out quickly. So we do get bulk e-mails from these advocacy groups that don’t help the problem.”

House e-mail services and other Web services are unaffected by the problems.

The form-based feature on the House and member websites has been slowed before. And in previous instances, it caused the whole domain to be slowed.

The e-mail feature was overwhelmed last September, when the House was considering a $700 billion bailout of the nation’s banks. The system clogged again in January when the economic stimulus package was before Congress.

Since then, the office of the CAO has structurally, but not visually, separated the “write your representative” feature from the rest of the House and member websites so that if too many people send the forms, it does not affect the overall functioning of the website, which is outfitted with “load balancing” technology that enables it to deal with high amounts of Web traffic.

“Back in January when the stimulus bill gave us a problem on the computers, kept going down as well,” Ventura said. “So on the back end we separated the write-your-representative feature from the rest of the site. The site itself is supported with load-balancing technology so that it can handle drastic increases and hits to the site.”

The office of the CAO was in the midst of upgrading the form-based services that are currently clogged, such as the write-your-representative feature, when the healthcare-related forms started piling up.

“We were in the process of upgrading that system,” Ventura said. “We were waiting until the August recess to do it and so while we were upgrading it we had the same type of issue happen all over again.”

Ventura said that the CAO’s technology staff had not updated him yet as to when the form-based features will be back to normal operating speed. He also could not predict how this overload of e-mail forms would affect the upgrades that were in progress.

The office of the Senate sergeant at arms, which oversees the e-mail and Web services for the Senate, did not immediately return a call for comment.