Floppy Disks Are Still Alive and Well at the Federal Register

This throwback technology is the latest evidence that government IT is a work in progress.

The Federal Register, the daily journal of the federal government, still accepts news from around the government on floppy disk, usually delivered by couriers.

It’s an interesting approach for an agency that has been publishing its content online since 1994 and is experimenting with mobile apps. Although agencies with news to publish can also submit it on a CD-ROM or on paper, their attempts to move to a secure email system have failed, largely because of the cost for involved agencies. The problem is that the Federal Register must accommodate the lowest common denominator. In other words, if Congress doesn’t make secure email mandatory for all agencies, slower-moving agencies won’t be forced to leave floppy disks behind.

The New York Times, which first reported this story last week, has more information:

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.

Ms. Bunk said that although many agencies did use the secure email system, The Federal Register could not require it until Congress made it compulsory by law.

“There are limits as to how far we can make the agencies do everything in lock step,” said Jim Bradley, the assistant public printer for the Government Printing Office. Federal budget cuts, he said, had helped slow down any modernization.

“We’ve got to accommodate the funding and everything else,” Mr. Bradley said. “Some agencies move forward with technology, and that’s great. Other agencies aren’t ready to go this year, maybe not next year.”

Modernization is an ongoing issue for agencies and will likely continue to plague operations, even as more agencies move productivity tools and infrastructure to the cloud. For perspective, it’s worth noting that a 1.44MB floppy disk, which was the most common storage size in the mid-1990s, couldn’t hold a single digital photograph today. Even more damning: As of 2007, retailer PC World said that less than 2 percent of the computers it sold had floppy disk drives. In 2013, that number is much closer to zero.

When was the last time you used a floppy disk? Let us know in the Comments.

<p>Credit: <a href="http://shortformblog.com/post/70200338683/federal-register-floppy-disks" target="_blank">ShortFormBlog</a>/jm3/Flickr</p>
Dec 20 2013