December 8, 2013


Slowly They Modernize: A Federal Agency That Still Uses Floppy Disks (JADA F. SMITH, December 6, 2013, NY Times)

Now government infrastructure experts are hoping that public embarrassments like the debacle will prompt a closer look at the government's technological prowess, especially if it might mean getting rid of floppy disks.

"You've got this antiquated system that still works but is not nearly as efficient as it could be," said Stan Soloway, chief executive of the Professional Services Council, which represents more than 370 government contractors. "Companies that work with the government, whether longstanding or newcomers, are all hamstrung by the same limitations."

The use of floppy disks peaked in American homes and offices in the mid-1990s, and modern computers do not even accommodate them anymore. But The Federal Register continues to accept them, in part because legal and security requirements have yet to be updated, but mostly because the wheels of government grind ever slowly.

Davita Vance-Cooks, the head of the Government Printing Office, which prints The Federal Register and publishes it online, spoke at a congressional hearing on Wednesday about her department's attempts to make its work remain relevant in a post-print world. Despite creating mobile apps, The Federal Register still requires agencies to submit information on paper, with original signatures, though they can create a digital signature via a secured email system.

Agencies are also permitted to submit the documents on CD-ROMs and floppy disks, but not on flash drives or SD cards. "The Federal Register Act says that an agency has to submit the original and two duplicate originals or two certified copies," said Amy P. Bunk, The Federal Register's director of legal affairs and policy. As long as an agency does that through one of the approved methods of transmission, she said, "they've met the statutory requirement."

But the secure email system -- which uses software called Public Key Infrastructure technology -- is expensive, and some government agencies have not yet upgraded to it. As a result, some agencies still scan documents on to a computer and save them on floppy disks. The disks are then sent by courier to the register.

Posted by at December 8, 2013 6:51 AM

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