Public Sector

Cat accused of wiping US Veteran Affairs server info after jumping on keyboard

US govt confirms outage, leaves feline in quantum state of uncertainty

Exclusive A four-hour system interruption in September at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri has been attributed to a cat jumping on a technician's keyboard.

So we're told by a source, who heard the tale on one of the regular weekday calls held by the US government department with its CIO, during which recent IT problems are reviewed. We understand that hundreds of people – contractors, vendors, and employees – participate in these calls at a time.

On a mid-September call, one of the participants explained that while a technician was reviewing the configuration of a server cluster, their cat jumped on the keyboard and deleted it. Or at least that's their story.

Kurt DelBene, assistant secretary for information and technology and CIO at the Department of Veterans Affairs, is said to have responded on the call with words to the effect that: "This is why I have a dog." There was laughter and not much more – it was a short incident report.

This is not an unheard of problem. Anecdotes of feline data vandalism abound in various online forums. This reporter has personal experience with typos introduced by an orange tabby conducting a keyboard crossing to reach a sunny spot by the window, and one of El Reg's editors has suffered similar issues.

The late Boo was a Register disruptor during editing

So we asked the Department of Veteran Affairs to confirm the yarn. VA press secretary Terrence Hayes responded promptly with the following statement:

"On September 13, 2023 the Kansas City VAMC [Veterans Affairs Medical Center] experienced an issue with image transfer within Vista due to an inadvertent deletion of server profiles. The issue was quickly identified and the system restored within four hours. There have been no further issues or direct impacts to veterans from this incident."

Vista, in this instance, refers not to Microsoft's much-maligned Windows operating system of yore but to the VA’s Veterans Health Information System Technology Architecture Imaging system, often rendered with a trailing capital, VistA. An installation guide [PDF] provided by the VA makes it clear that it would be no fun to deal with cat-edited configuration files in the administration's electronic filing system.

No mention was made of the cat in the VA's statement. And when The Register explicitly asked Hayes to confirm the involvement of a problem with paws, he declined to comment. We informed him that we would be reporting what we heard and to let us know if our source's account was in any way not purrfect.

We've not heard anything further from the VA, so we're left with a Schrödinger's cat scenario, where the cat both exists and does not exist in different tellings.

We note that Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA), who is also Kurt's wife, does report having a dog named Reily. Our source reports that occasionally the dog's tail can be seen wagging into frame during his video calls. ®

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