Government Shutdown: Data Held Hostage

As a radical faction of the Republican Party holds the federal government hostage, many of its gears have ground to a halt. In the 21st century, this also apparently means the disappearance of government information online.
The Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday morning that all of its electronic databases and filing systems are offline until the agency’s funding is restored. On the meatspace tip, just 38 of the agency’s 1,754 employees are on the job, basically minding the store and limited to "duties that are immediately necessary for the safety of life or the protection of property."
Now, disabling access to online systems that do the business of the agency is logical to a point. Why collect applications or other necessary documentation that nobody can process? But the blackout of databases that effectively serve as public archives of public information is just petty.
Here are two examples. The FCC’s Consolidated Data Base System (CDBS) is, in simple terms, an archive of information about all the radio and television stations in the United States. It includes things like who owns them, where their studios and transmission facilities are located, basic technical information, and pertinent recent correspondence with the FCC. Similarly, the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) is the definitive record of all public comment on FCC rulemaking proceedings: a treasure-trove for policy researchers who seek to understand and illuminate the policy process. Were it not for the ECFS, there would be no Radio’s Digital Dilemma.
Theoretically, it is a relatively uncomplicated procedure to disable the submission-function of databases but allow the extant archive to remain available (effectively making them "read-only"). A little bit of disclaimer-text on the homepage of these tools noting that they’re frozen in time and voilà, you’re done. And theoretically, servers can hum along on their racks with no human oversight: the FCC’s uptime is pretty impressive and that’s due in large part to the fact that the agency was the first to embrace the notion of e-government and make tools to conduct many of its core functions online. These systems don’t go dark on weekends and holidays, so why now?
Then again, many of the agency’s database tools were launched in the late 1990s—the creation of LPFM was the first real capacity-test of the Electronic Comment Filing System—and they have not really been overhauled or updated since then. If the back-ends of these systems are as aged as the front-ends, then perhaps the agency really does need a bevy of acolytes servicing them, as was the case with the first computers some 70 years ago. That would suggest that the federal government’s commitment to e-services is more chimerical than practical.
This blackout of government information is apparently pervasive. The Internet Archive has created a page with links to its scrapes of more than a dozen federal agencies, including the Library of Congress, Census Bureau, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—all of which have massive (and passive) public repositories of data that people far beyond government rely on to do their own jobs every day, and in real terms require very little human intervention to make that happen. Unfortunately, the Internet Archive’s facsimiles do not include these repositories.
If Republicans in the legislative branch have plunged the knife into the body politic, Democrats in the executive branch are twisting the knife to make sure that we all know how much these shenanigans can hurt. This is a dimension that is new and somewhat unsettling: it took just four hours for the FCC to wind down its operations, and with some keystrokes and mouse-clicks its brave new world of e-government disappeared. In that sense it really is like 1995-96 all over again.