Why is this government agency still using floppy disks?

Mon, 12/09/2013 - 5:11pm
Kasey Panetta, Managing Editor

Every so often ECN drags out a past relic of technology to gawk, reminisce and remember before shoving it back into the proverbial vault for a few more decades. For example, we’ve featured introductions to new technology and how-tos on using a computer. We even looked at what the workplace was like 30 years ago. In a somewhat disheartening discovery, it was recently reported that not only is one federal agency featuring floppy disks as a friendly memory of times gone by, they’re actually using them to work every day.

According to an article in the New York Times, employees at the Federal Register who are responsible for publishing executive orders, proclamation, proposed rule changes, and government notices are still using the cutting edge technology from three decades ago: the floppy disk. Ruler of the 80s and 90s, the 3.5 disk was replaced—at least in most places—by the CD, then the zip drive and SD cards and, more recently, by the cloud.  Technically, agencies can submit documents on CDs, but that’s the only other option aside from an expensive secure email system that not every agency has upgraded to. Ostensibly, the reasoning for the delay is that there isn’t enough money to upgrade every department, but since this is leftover from at least 15 years ago (I’m being generous) I don’t understand how this is an issue.

The article draws parallels between the problems with the Affordable Care Act website and the apparent total lack of technological progression in the Federal Register.  It's probably not an unfair allegation about the larger issue of technology within the government, but it’s not a completely accurate comparison. For one thing, the ACA program recognizes the need for a website that is efficient and easy to navigate. For the purpose of healthcare plan distribution, there really isn't a better option than a website no matter how many problems it has. Meanwhile, there is an entire department using a more or less obsolete technology that has been replace—several times over—with technologies that are able to store more data, transfer that data more easily, are way smaller and probably cheaper. Not to mention, this really calls into question the type of computers that the Federal Register is using since most modern day computers don’t even have a floppy disk drive.

Don’t get me wrong. I too, long for the simple days of a floppy disk, but zip drives are a much more efficient, remarkably secure manner of transferring data. It’s somewhat comical that the U.S. government—though it is has never claimed to be a bastion of technological advancement—is still stuck in the 1980s.



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