Letters to the editor

Treat PDA Users as Adults

I am troubled by the last sentence in The Circuit item headlined "Got a Minute?" from the Feb. 5 issue of Federal Computer Week: "In this age of viruses and hackers, it's better to be safe than sorry."

Recognizing that security risks exist also means recognizing that prohibition never works. If we give up productivity enhancement tools because the security folks are concerned about security, we might as well start using Etch A Sketches for letters and intra-office memos.

If the State Department had not lost so many laptops and briefing books, this prohibition on personal digital assistants probably would not be an issue. If the information assurance folks think that publishing a policy against PDAs is going to stop people from using them, well, I have some great "future" oceanfront property for sale that is a few miles from Edwards Air Force Base in California.

In other words, doing the ostrich routine is not the way to deal with the potential PDA worms and viruses dilemma.

If the security folks truly want to maintain secure networks, then they have to treat end users as adults. Then, these end-user adults need to be educated about the problem. Most PDA users would die rather than knowingly contaminate their networks.

Educating them about the risks will produce greater returns and safer networks than the alternative—which is surreptitious use of PDA synchronization.

Gary Dickson
Federal Highway Administration
Washington, D.C.

Getting to the Source of DMS Problems

As someone who has been involved with the Defense Message System since 1991, I believe that your March 5 article on DMS was a fair and levelheaded attempt to assess the current state of the program.

However, I feel that you have missed the mark in identifying sources of the program's problems. The original goal of DMS was to allow Autodin to be decommissioned by Dec. 31, 1999. DMS was a two-part procurement. The bidders were required to bid firm-fixed price for replacement of Autodin. After that was completed, the vendors would be able to sell additional products through an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) portion of the contract. Out of four bidders, one was deemed noncompliant. Of the three compliant bids, Loral Space and Communications Inc. was the lowest cost, but was also assessed by the Air Force evaluators as having the highest risk of the three approaches.

To date, DMS has not accomplished its primary goal—to turn off Autodin. However, hundreds of thousands of seats of commercial workgroup software have been sold through the IDIQ portion of the contract. In my view, this situation constitutes noncompliance with the mandatory requirements of the procurement—the "shalls" that vendors complain about.

The U.S. taxpayer funded these purchases, which were not supposed to occur until after Autodin could successfully be replaced. And now, we taxpayers get to lay out another $120 million dollars to keep Autodin running for yet another four years!

In my opinion, the biggest fault in this program lies in an almost total lack of accountability. By the time this farce has run its course, we will have spent more than four times the original amount bid for the contract and may actually get to turn off Autodin a mere four years late (which is four years past the end of the original DMS contract).

I cannot see that the prime contractor, the contracting agency (the Air Force), the Defense Information Systems Agency's DMS program office or anyone else connected with this program has been held properly accountable for delays, missed deadlines, lack of compliance with mandatory contract requirements and cost overruns.

As a taxpayer, I am livid with indignation. As someone who has to deal with these parties on a regular basis, I have been forced to hold my opinions to myself for several years.

Perhaps someday, someone will conduct an impartial review of this program. The resulting report should provide very interesting reading. My best guess is that this review won't happen until a good many people have retired. Until then, I suppose everyone will keep shaking their heads and pointing to DMS as a good example of yet another huge government procurement that "just didn't work."

Name withheld upon request

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