By Bob Gourley
Stories are starting to make it into the tech media about what appears to be a massive melt-down of one of the nation’s most important IT systems.
This system is not be as widely known as healthcare.gov, but it should be, because it is every bit as important.
The system is the IT behind the critical missions of the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. This system processes both passport and visa applications. The failure is impacting both those important functions. The impact on passport applications means that US citizens that want to travel abroad will have a much harder time getting passports. The impact on the visa application process is something even more significant.
The visa application process and the systems that work with it are in many ways the nation’s first line of defense against adversaries seeking entry into the United States. The Bureau of Consular Affairs designed a great system. I know for a fact that they brought in one of the nation’s great enterprise IT professionals as an IT leader and he worked across government and the many stakeholders in this system to establish technology that worked, at scale. In seconds after a visa application is entered overseas actions are triggered in the system that support critical business and mission processes and connect to many other systems that rely on this data. This system was smartly designed and works.
But when the smart leaders that know how it work moved on to other challenging positions, the folks that were left behind must not have kept up the maintenance (I’m just guessing here, but judging from the reports I’ve read that I list below that is my initial assessment).
- If you are a technologist, start digging into this. We all need to know what really happened so we can avoid these challenges in the future.
- If you are a leader in government, you should dig into this too. If you have a smart technical leader, hang onto her or him. We need to keep smart techies in every agency. When they leave things go wrong.
- Whoever you are, read up on this. Some references are below.
- State Department computer crash slows visa, passport applications worldwide (pcworld.com)
- U.S. Database Glitch Delays Passport, Visa Processing (gpb.org)
- Computer Crash Halts US Visa, Passport Operation (voanews.com)
- U.S. Database Glitch Delays Passport, Visa Processing (npr.org)
- US passport, visa operations delayed after State Department database glitch (abc7chicago.com)
- Glitch crashes global US passport, visa operations (gulfnews.com)
- Computer Crash Halts US Visa, Passport Operation (hawaiireporter.com)
- ‘My papers, please?’ US passport database crash leaves travelers stranded (go.theregister.com)
- US Passport & Visa backlog results from State Dept. Glitch (flyertalk.com)
- US visa system goes down (kaieteurnewsonline.com)