Computer problems with the U.S. State Department's system for issuing passports and visas may have affected up to 200,000 people, it emerged Thursday, as the scale of the problem became clear for the first time.
The problems began July 20 when engineers from Oracle and Microsoft applied a software patch to the State Department's Consular Consolidated Database, which handles millions of passport and visa applications in the U.S. and at its embassies and consulates around the globe.
The patch was intended to solve several months of instability but instead crashed the system, which did not come back online until July 23.
"From the start of the operational issues on July 20th through the 28th, we issued more than 180,000 non-immigrant visas globally," said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, at a televised briefing Thursday. "Based on our average production figures, we would have anticipated issuing closer to 370,000 in that same time period."
The State Department now faces a massive backlog in applications, and Harf said it would take "weeks to restore full visa-issuing capacity."
The government is prioritizing immigrant and adoption visas and there are no significant delays issuing passports, she said.
The initial instability that required installing the patch hasn't been identified, and Harf said the full recovery of the system is being hampered by its age.
"We are limited in part by our outdated software and hardware, which we are attempting to work to fix," she said.
Oracle and Microsoft aren't talking about the issue.
"We decline to comment," said Jessica Moore, a senior director at Oracle's brand communications division.
A representative from Microsoft's PR agency said he would "look into" the matter but had yet to supply additional information.
Despite the crash, it looks like Oracle will be getting more business from the State Department. The department said it plans to upgrade to a newer version of Oracle's database by the end of the year and build two fully redundant systems.
Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org