The Circuit

USPS Makes a Sales Pitch

The U.S. Postal Service was the only federal agency exhibiting at last month's Comdex trade show in Las Vegas, and its mission there was clear: Sell, sell, sell.

USPS did not announce any new e-commerce or Web-based initiatives, but instead staffed its booth with sales people attempting to drum up leads for its variety of service offerings, from bulk shipping plans to electronic package tracking and e-postmarks, said Julie Rowland, event programs coordinator for USPS.

"We're here to attract business and let people know what we're offering," she said. "It's all sales staff [here] generating leads for packaged services, e-commerce solutions...and bringing the leads back" to the agency's nationwide sales team.

It's been well-documented that attendance was down at this year's show, but here's hoping USPS, which is also hurting for business, will be able to close some deals it started in Vegas.

VA Contracting Thaws

There's good news for vendors selling to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Secretary Anthony Principi recently lifted a temporary freeze he put on new information technology projects when he took office. The freeze was effective while the department developed its enterprise architecture plan. Even so, VA chief information officer John Gauss must still approve each new IT project and the money to pay for it.

Reviewing It All

In the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedies, the VA is assessing whether it should find new ways to communicate. Like so many other agencies, the VA found that PC-based instant messaging technology and handheld computers were more reliable than landline and wireless phones. Secretary Principi said in a recent interview with Federal Computer Week that the VA will be looking at whether wireless and satellite communications should be added to the mix.

"I would look at it as an addition and not as an alternative, but clearly it is an important addition to our ability to communicate during times of an emergency, when the hardened lines are down," he said.

The Waiting Game

When the time it takes to cross U.S. borders increased dramatically after Sept. 11, the Customs Service decided to let travelers know just how long it would take them to clear Customs. For the first time, the service posted entry times from the Canadian and Mexican borders on its Web site to give folks an idea of how long they might be waiting in line, according to Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner.

Wait times at the Detroit, Port Huron, Mich., and Buffalo, N.Y., ports swelled to 10 to 12 hours as Customs went to a Level 1 alert after the attacks. But the waiting times are back to normal — in some cases less than an hour — after Customs added inspectors and opened more lanes and the National Guard was dispatched to help clear the traffic jams. Waiting times continue to be posted on the Customs Web site at

Top of the List

The Transportation Department has put IT at the top of its to-do list for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a new agency that will handle almost all of the department's security functions.

"The third hire made on the TSA was our CIO," said John Flaherty, chief of staff at DOT, at a conference last week sponsored by the Council for Excellence in Government. Considering all of the information needed to support the TSA, the systems to collect, analyze and disseminate that information are crucial to the success of the agency, Flaherty said.

The department also is using technology to help staff the rest of the agency, which is expected to grow to almost 45,000 employees, Flaherty said. After receiving numerous inquiries about how to join the agency, DOT put together a Web site that will record job seekers' information so the department can get back in touch when people are needed, he said.

Not to Worry

Fernando Burbano, the State Department's CIO, is not at all disturbed about the demise of the federal CIO Council's Security, Privacy and Critical Infrastructure Committee, which he chaired. "That wasn't my full-time job," Burbano said recently. He called the decision by the council and Mark Forman, the Office of Management and Budget associate director of IT and e-government, to fold the panel into other committees a different management style — distributive vs. centralized. "We're here to see how it works. Give the guy a chance to see if it works."

Not Hip to HIPAA

A majority of state and local government agency officials are unsure whether their jurisdiction would meet sweeping new federal guidelines designed to enhance health care-related information systems within the next 18 months, according to a recent Gartner Inc. survey.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), signed by President Clinton in 1996, was enacted to provide a comprehensive federal law that would protect people's health information and improve the efficiency of health care delivery by standardizing electronic data interchange.

According to Gartner, only 6 percent of chief information officers surveyed expected to meet the law's transaction standards by the October 2002 deadline, and 63 percent don't know whether they will be able to comply. Seventeen percent said they were very likely to comply, 9 percent said somewhat likely, 3 percent said highly unlikely, and 2 percent said not at all.

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