Agency watch

A roundup of news from last week's CIO Summit in Savannah, Ga.

IRS Revving up Online Efforts

The Internal Revenue Service is stepping up its campaign to move nearly

every aspect of the tax return business online in the next several years.

Even as electronic filing of tax returns increases by 20 percent annually — including 35 million returns this year — the agency plans to spur more

business online by making it possible for Americans to file their returns

on the World Wide Web for free starting in 2003, according to Robert Albicker,

deputy chief information officer at the IRS.

To help make that goal, the IRS plans to expand a pilot program begun this

year in which e-filers can "sign" their tax returns by submitting electronic

returns with personal identification numbers, instead of mailing in a signed

document after they file electronically.

The IRS also is working to make it possible for people to file electronically

no matter what forms they are using.

In the meantime, the IRS plans to expand into other online services, he

said. For example, in the years ahead, people will be able to go online

to submit a change of address, make a payment or check the status of their

refunds.

HHS Plans IT Restructuring

The Department of Health and Human Services has drawn up a master plan

for bringing order to information technology systems and services across

its 13 divisions.

Rolled out over three years, the Enterprise Infrastructure Management (EIM)

initiative would reshape how the department buys, manages and secures its

systems, said Brian Burns, deputy chief information officer at HHS.

Ultimately, the initiative will free up individual agencies to focus

on the services they provide, rather than the systems they run, Burns said.

EIM "is moving us from being a system- centric organization to a customer

service-centric organization," he said.

EIM is not a system but a combination of policies, procedures and technologies.

For example, HHS plans to establish a departmentwide approach to buying

software, giving individual agencies access to higher-volume pricing on

software licenses than would otherwise be possible.

HHS also plans to develop procedures for dealing with security problems.

Until now, the department, which is fairly decentralized, has not established

a system for spreading the word or collecting information about security

problems, such as the "ILOVEYOU" virus, Burns said.

HHS relied largely on fax machines and phone calls to get word out to its

divisions, along with a plethora of e-mail messages -that flew back and

forth among employees. As part of EIM, HHS plans to set up standard operating

procedures to avoid such confusion, he said.

And procedures for dealing with security problems will be reinforced

by management technology. For example, HHS would like the network management

systems at the various divisions to automatically forward reports of problems

to a system at headquarters.

To whatever extent possible, the department would like its agencies to use

a common set of management technologies, or, as with network management,

technologies that at least work together.

EPA Easing Flow of Data

The Environmental Protection Agency has launched an initiative to improve

the flow of information among federal and state agencies that collect environmental

data and the organizations that provide it.

The EPA has made its own environmental data more accessible to the public

through such projects as the Enviro-Facts Warehouse, a vast store of information

on air quality, water quality, drinking water safety and other data.

But states, as well as private-sector organizations, also manage a

wealth of data. The Information Integration Initiative (I3) is aimed at

providing secure venues through which that information might be shared.

I3 recognizes that "the states are just as much partners with us in this

effort" as they are beneficiaries, said Emma McNamara, director of the

Information Access Division in the EPA's Office of Information Analysis

and Access.

The EPA intends to build a series of environmental databases that federal

and state agencies will help populate. The initiative should make it easier

for people across the country and at different levels of government to find

the information they need, according to the agency.

The EPA also expects that the improved flow of information will lead

to more accurate data. People searching environmental records online will

be able to send a message if they find a discrepancy and even track the

resolution of that problem, McNamara said.

NEXT STORY: VA's 'user's manual for hackers'

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