Fireside21, a web services company fingered as a possible culprit behind the mass outage of congressional sites in the wake of Monday's televised presidential address, received over $1.4 million from House offices for web services last year, disbursement data shows. The total highlights the dominance of just a few companies providing congressional web services, a category in which five companies received 79 percent of the $5.5 million pie.
On Monday, speaking during a prime-time address, President Barack Obama asked viewers who favor a balanced deficit reduction approach to contact Congress. Several members' websites stopped responding to requests soon after. A Roll Call story published Wednesday blamed the outage on a massive influx of traffic and, according to unnamed sources in the story identified a single vendor: Fireside21 — a web services company headquartered on K Street and helmed by a former congressional staffer, which decorates its website with photographs of the Capitol.
In 2010, a little over 100 members listed web services payments to the company in disclosures. They included the offices of House Speaker John Boehner (which paid $15,970 ) and Rep. Michele Bachmann ($11,553), whose websites were reported to have gone down and have since returned on a Fireside-related server, as well as Rep. Paul Ryan ($10,139). Rep. Phil Gingrey (whose office paid $26,901 to Fireside) also suffered downtime, and he said the committee he chairs, the House Administration Subcommittee on Oversight, might look into the outages.
In addition to members, disbursements show payments to Fireside from six House committees, including the committees on Budget, Financial Services and Education.
The payments were for a category that includes web development, hosting, e-mail and related services, so it's unlikely the entire total went to hosting. It's also not definite that Fireside hosted the sites at the time of the outage. The disbursement records, released by the House and formatted into a searchable preadsheet by Sunlight, are sometimes incomplete, and can be amended long after the fact by members.
But the payments do show the extent to which a few specialty firms dominate the congressional web services market. In this field, iConstituent was the clear 2010 leader, with more than $1.6 million in disbursements. They received payments from a little more than 140 members' offices. Fireside was next with more than $1.4 million. Dialog Concepts was third with $773,500 in disbursements.