U.S. government department still runs on floppies

I used to work on a publication that was run completely on Sneakernet: We’d literally run to the art department with stories on 3.5-inch floppy disk for the artists to drop into the desktop publishing program. It was rudely inefficient and a potential security nightmare – one infected disk is suddenly propagating all over the network – and before you ask, yes, I have set type by hand, but this wasn’t that long ago; we’re talking turn-of-the-century.

I also have about 100 blank floppies in my possession. I have old musical equipment that runs on them, and when I saw a blowout sale, I figured I’d better pick some up in case I never see one again. And I can’t remember the last time I saw one in the wild.

Turns out the 3.5-inch floppy disk has had a much longer shelf life in the U.S. government, the New York Times reports.

The Federal Register is the daily journal of the U.S. governemt, publishing executive orders, regulation changes, and other government business that must be available for public scrutiny. It’s still published in a paper format, but has long been available online as well at https://www.federalregister.gov/

But though the Government Printing Office has gone online, some of the rules that dictate how it does business stopped changing in the mid 1990s. Government agencies submitting material for publication must still provide a signed paper version and two certified copies. CD-ROM and floppies are acceptable for the certified copies; SD cards and flash drives aren’t. While an agency can create a digitally signed copy with public key infrastructure (PKI) software, it’s expensive and many government departments haven’t moved to it yet, according to Amy Bunk, The Federal Register’s director of legal affairs and policy. So many departments continue to scan paper versions to disk and courier them to the Register.

Given the continuing back-end problems at HealthCare.gov, many professionals who contract to the federal government hope it will look at the technological inefficiencies that hamstring them in doing business with the government, says Stan Soloway, CEO of the Professional Services Council, which represents 370 government contractors.

Read the full story here.


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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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