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E-mail outage affecting the White House, OMB

By Ed O'Keefe and Anne E. Kornblut
Thursday, February 3, 2011; 7:35 PM

Updated 4:07 p.m. ET

E-mail outages and broken printers are commonplace in many offices.

But what do you do when it happens at the White House?

An outage affecting unclassified White House e-mail accounts began at around 7:45 a.m. Thursday and stretched well into the afternoon, which meant the most tech-savvy administration in history spent most of the day relying on papers, pens and landlines.

Reporters first inquired Thursday morning after e-mails sent to normally responsive contacts went unanswered.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer later confirmed the outage by using what he said was the only way he could: Twitter.

"Verizon is working to solve the problem," Pfeiffer typed, adding that printed copies of pool reports describing the president's activities would be available in the White House Press Office.

Printed copies?!

Stepping further back into the 20th Century, the outage forced officials to pick up the phone or meet reporters in person -- a rarity these days.

Inside the West Wing, advisers normally glued to their BlackBerries wandered the halls Thursday, suddenly untethered from their desks, talking to one another.

In at least part of the building, the heat had also ceased to function -- prompting some officials with fireplaces in their offices to light fires to stay warm. The smell of smoke wafted from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs's office, as aides sociably gathered at his desk to eat lunch together (Gibbs was on the road with the president).

Senior officials, unable to shoot each other quick emails as they normally do, darted up and down staircases for meetings. Several said they could not print, or access any documents at all -- even files that were not connected to e-mail. The files they could share with reporters were scanned copies of faxes -- again, not normal.

President Obama, who carries a BlackBerry, was cut off from e-mail as well during his trip to State College, Pa. One adviser said it felt "like a snow day," with no one getting much done.

The outage did not impact classified e-mail accounts of officials monitoring the situation in Egypt, sources said.

The glitch revived memories of a series of outages during the opening days of the Obama administration. Since then, such communication gaps have been rare.

Service was restored by mid-afternoon as messages written Wednesday evening finally sent and pool reports again appeared in electronic form.

Perhaps they'll use the paper copies as kindling for the fires?

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