Then the official reviewing his application did something very unbureaucratic. He gave Anderson his private cellphone number.
“He would make sure if I needed an answer to a question I got it,” Anderson recalled.
The announcement for a $2.4 million award arrived in February — by fax.
People are rediscovering what it is like to scribble down a “When you were out” slip. They pick up the phone, calling congressional staff members, for example, to announce a grant in their districts. They meet potential clients face to face.
With their data frozen on infected PCs and no place in the field to scan federal forms, staff members have retyped hundreds of pages into word processors, key by key.
“If someone told me I wouldn’t have e-mail for this long, I would have said it’s not possible,” said Jane Reimer, a planner in the Denver office who manually processed hundreds of grant applications. “I thought it was my lifeline.”
Employees refer to the outage as “the disruption.” At Commerce Department headquarters on Constitution Avenue NW, managers panicked at first. How would business get done?
“There were things like, ‘How are we going [to] do our payroll?’ ” external-affairs chief Angela Martinez recalled.
Work hours were submitted from local libraries, home computers or mobile phones. The payroll went out on time.
Employees were instructed to call their clients and ask how they wanted to communicate without the Internet.
“It may just be better instead of trying to fax someone 100 pages to decide it’s going to be in the mail,” said Philip Paradice Jr., director of the Atlanta office.
“It’s not necessarily something you look forward to in life,” he said. “But there’s a certain invigoration that’s come up. We’ve come up with work-arounds.”
Some managers at headquarters were able to log on to servers at other Commerce Department sites, but in limited doses. The risk of spreading the infection was too great.
For some veterans, the technological blackout had a familiar feel.
The EDA is a slow-turnover place. Plenty of people there remember when they looked up numbers in the Yellow Pages or addresses on a map.
“In those days, we had secretaries and clerical people,” said Shirley Marshall, a project engineer in Denver who started in the agency’s West Virginia office in 1966. “We wrote reports and gave them to the secretary to type up. I’m sure living without the Internet has been easier for me than some younger employees.”
The agency is starting over, issuing employees new e-mail addresses, Blackberrys and laptops on loan from the Census Bureau. A skeletal Web site was restored last week. Fax machines have been ordered for staff members who work from home. Scanning and attachments are off-limits for now, however, and files and e-mail from the infected computers have not been recovered. Bugs are slowly being worked out. With security concerns so high, logging in to the new system is cumbersome, employees said.
Commerce officials declined to say how much the crisis is costing.
There has, however, been an upside: human contact.
“You pick up your phone and you get back to some human interaction,” said Chris Massengill of the Delta Regional Authority in Clarksdale, Miss., which works with the federal government to jump-start development in the Delta, “which in my opinion is never a bad thing, especially for government.”