The main federal systems of Brazilian research, the Lattes and Carlos Chagas platforms, have been experiencing a blackout since Friday (23) after a failure in the technology area. The problem impacts routine processes related to promoting research, such as payment, scholarship renewals and rendering of accounts.
The two systems are the responsibility of the CNPq (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development), responsible for promoting research in the country. The agency is linked to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.
The Lattes platform is a database with all researchers’ resumes. Actions such as the approval of grants depend on consulting Lattes. Through the Carlos Chagas platform, public calls and notices to promote research, management and payment of grants are made operational.
About 84 thousand researchers are financed with resources from the CNPq. In addition, other bodies, such as Capes (Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel) and development agencies linked to state governments, also carry out operations with the aid of the Lattes platform.
The CNPq published a note in which it admits the error, which would have been identified on Saturday (24). The systems have been down for four days now, but there is no forecast for a reset yet.
The board says deadlines are suspended and will be extended. Scholarship payments will not be affected, according to the government.
“The problem that caused the unavailability of the systems has already been diagnosed in partnership with contracted companies and the procedures for its repair have been started”, says a note from the agency.
There are fears among researchers and board officials that the problem will lead to loss of information. Questioned, the agency denies that this risk exists and says that “there are backups whose contents are supporting the restoration” of the systems.
“CNPq already has new IT equipment [Tecnologia da Informação] and the data migration was started before what happened,” says the note.
Even CNPq’s internal email is down. Only the agency’s website remains in operation because it is hosted on the central server of the federal government.
There are still no details on the cause of the blackout. Information collected from employees indicates that they burned a device of equipment that has the function of controlling the servers where the platforms are hosted. This failure would have occurred during migration to new equipment.
In an email obtained by the report, an employee of the CNPq reports that the problem reached the main server of the agency. The equipment would be out of warranty and without a maintenance contract – which would prevent an immediate repair and would make it necessary to hire an outside company.
Officials also point to the lack of maintenance in this infrastructure. This would be the impact of the budgetary pressure that the agency is experiencing during the Jair Bolsonaro government (no party) and also in the past administration of Michel Temer (MDB).
“The agency is paralyzed. With the platforms unavailable, we can’t do practically anything”, says Roberto Muniz, director of the National Union of Public Managers in Science and Technology and president of the Association of CNPq Servants.
“The failure may have occurred by chance, but equipment of this nature cannot be allowed without maintenance and warranty contracts.”
The need to renew CNPq’s operating systems has been a recurrent subject within the organization at least since 2016, according to Muniz and members of the research sector. Most technology services are provided by third parties.
To Folha, the minister of Science and Technology, Marcos Pontes, said that the resolution of the failure has been led by the CNPq so that there is normality in the coming days. “There are no budget issues, just a matter of downtime for the return,” he said.
The SBPC (Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science) received reports of the impossibility of accessing public notices, such as research productivity grants. According to the organization’s president, Renato Janine Ribeiro, a position in defense of development agencies is needed.
“The CNPq must have funds for end activities, which are the most important, but also for middle activities, which guarantee the functioning of the body,” he said. “There is concern about the current crisis situation, but which is basically a result of budgetary choices”.
For Flávia Calé, president of ANPG (National Association of Graduate Students), the loss of data would be the great tragedy caused by the failure. Although CNPq denies this risk, the entity expects the reestablishment of the systems to assess the scenario.
“We credit this blackout to the scrapping of CNPq, which had a drastic reduction in its budget and suffers from a very large staff gap. The platform’s most technical issues are an old and recurring complaint,” she says. “This process that the blackout shows is part of an understanding that it is not necessary to invest in science.”
The CNPq budget for 2021 is the lowest since at least 2012, even in nominal values. The agency’s updated allocation for this year is R$1.2 billion – between 2013 and 2015, the budget exceeded R$2 billion.
Expenditures on the administration of the unit, which do not include payment of scholarships, were the lowest since 2013 in the first two years of the Bolsonaro government.
The Bolsonaro government tried at the beginning of its administration, in 2019, to merge the CNPq with Capes, which is linked to the Ministry of Education and takes care of postgraduate studies. The theme did not go forward, but officials say the idea was never completely abandoned.