Letters to the editor

Slicing Up E-Filing; Laptop Theft Alarming; Cyber Corps Seems Unfair

Slicing Up E-Filing

I am writing to comment on a letter from Ace Cenek in the Aug. 19 issue of Federal Computer Week. Cenek is concerned about the cost of filing tax returns via electronic methods.

Several constituencies are working for a piece of the electronic filing pie. Congress wants to increase the number of tax returns filed electronically to save processing costs and increase accuracy. The Internal Revenue Service has a statutory mandate to increase e-filing. President Bush, in his fiscal 2003 budget, called for commercial software companies to compete in the process. The president believes that government should not compete with private companies in the marketplace. The Council for Electronic Revenue Communication Advancement, an industry group, wants to keep the IRS from offering software in competition with commercial companies.

Bottom line: The IRS must accept electronically filed returns. An increasing number of e-filings must be solicited every year. The IRS is not allowed to offer either free or low-cost software to the public to do the job. This would violate a current political tenet: Government must not compete with private industry.

The compromise, allowing a consortium to provide e-filing services — some for free — is the current solution.

Tom Hart, Dedham, Mass.

Laptop Theft Alarming

I found considerable information of interest in the article on laptops gone missing from the Justice Department ["Laptops lost, stolen at Justice," FCW, Aug. 12]. One of my laptop computers was stolen from a hotel room while I was on business travel in Europe a few years ago.

I noted in the article that, except for bar codes and scanners, the two lists of proposals to alleviate the problem contain no technological solutions. I know there are several such solutions.

It occurred to me several years ago that there must be a simple deterrent to casual or opportunistic laptop theft. For that reason, I patented, through my company, a motion-sensor alarm built into laptops that is set and reset by a combination on an external keypad. ("Portable Computer with Integrated Alarm System," U.S. Patent No. 5760690 issued on June 2, 1998.)

To my knowledge, no one has yet produced one. Maybe the time has come.

P.S. I'd like to tell you that my laptop was stolen before the patent was issued, but such was not the case. It would have made an interesting headline: "Holder of U.S. patent for laptop alarms has laptop stolen."

Roger Allan French

Former security program office manager, Digital Equipment Corp./Compaq Computer Corp.

Londonderry, N.H.

Cyber Corps Seems Unfair

It is a wonderful thing that the government is encouraging kids to study computer security, but not so wonderful that it is doing so by essentially bribing them to do it ["Cybercorps to extend to states," FCW.com, July 23]. Add to this that there are a large number of already highly educated people with extensive knowledge of computer security out of work (myself included), and you get what appears to be a government policy biased toward "young and cheap" — precisely what corporate America has been doing for years.

Is this the example our leaders want to set, preserving the stereotype that you can't teach old dogs new tricks? If students aren't interested in studying something without advance knowledge of getting money for school in exchange for it, we have cheapened our educational system.

It is especially disheartening that the government does not make a more serious effort to talk to experienced people who have applied for such positions already.

The U.S. government and corporate America have repeatedly mentioned the need for people skilled in mathematics and sciences. Many people involved in human resources functions, however, are not able to grasp what a good mix of mathematics, science and technology skills is to their employers' needs, and thus a great pool of talent is being wasted. Perhaps the economy would improve at a greater rate if we knew how to hire people more effectively and not simply go for "young and cheap."

The need to structure education for future requirements is clear, but on the way to the future, we can travel a truer and more ethical path by igniting interest in math and science on their own merits by instilling the joy of learning, which each discipline requires if you are going to make a career out of it. The money will come in due course to those who cherish the process of discovery throughout their lives.

Tom Plemich, Arlington Heights, Ill.

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