Letters to the editor

Thanks for the interesting article on the State Department's information technology efforts

Olympic Visas

Thanks for the interesting article on the State Department's information technology efforts ["The state of State's IT," FCW, Aug. 20]. I was a little surprised that the article neglected to mention the Bureau of Consular Affairs' bold and innovative Olympic Visa Information Database initiative for next year's Olympic and Par.alympic Winter Games.

The OVID 2002 project, developed in close cooperation with the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) and the Justice Department, is an international entry system for foreign nationals who will be accredited to the Games. For the first time ever, the United States will be issuing visas through a completely electronic process on Olympic and Paralympic Identity/ Accreditation Cards. About 35,000 foreign nationals will be issued these special "Olympic visas."

Consistent with other U.S. border security initiatives, OVID 2002's visa facilitation will be a significant improvement over the system that was used for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Further, the State Department is extending the special processing facilitation to accredited athletes and officials attending the 2002 Winter Paralympic Games.

The plan calls for a clearance protocol managed through OVID 2002. Visa adjudication will take place electronically at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa. Digitized photos for applicants will be included in the database.

The system will provide the U.S. government with a complete audit trail for each applicant beginning at the time of initial Olympic registration in SLOC's accreditation database to the final card production. The card will be used as a travel document with an electronically issued visa indicia. Immigration inspectors at U.S. ports of entry will have access to issuance data virtually on a real-time basis.

OVID 2002 is in the final stages of end-to-end testing, and we expect deployment in Ottawa and Washington, D.C., in early October. This exciting and revolutionary electronic visa adjudication architecture has tremendous future potential for reducing costs, increasing accountability and improving national security.

Ron Acker

OVID 2002

Program manager

Contractor Support

You recently published a letter about contracting written by a National Labor Relations Board employee ["Outsourcing's benefits?," FCW, July 23]. That letter was not from the NLRB information technology management or anyone with contract administration responsibilities; nor did it reflect NLRB IT policy or experience.

Small organizations, whether governmental or private, do not have the staff sizes to be able to develop specialized expertise in IT areas that involve infrequent activity, nor do they have the staff flexibility to address spikes for heavy workloads or for major systems development.

Contractor support is normally used for such circumstances. Contractors are also often used for well-defined recurring operational support, and in the federal government, such activity is encouraged through Office of Management and Budget directives.

These uses of contract support are not only good for the companies that get the work, but have also been beneficial to agencies and government IT employees. With the additional contractor assistance, employees have been able to get better quality and greater quantity of work done, and they have been able to expand their duties and responsibilities to more challenging proj.ects. The results have been personal rewards and career advancement for our employees.

An appropriate mix of government and contractor employees is good business.

The comments written about reasons for not using contractors only bring attention to poor past practices, inappropriate assumptions about the character and motivation of people, and the lack of understanding about how to conduct cost analyses.

For example, reliance on institutional memory is a poor substitute for not following a good system development life cycle model; for not documenting the system; for not having and following a good project plan; and for not designing a system that can be easily maintained.

Also, contracting critics try to compare costs without the analysis that includes recognizing that contractor rates include benefits and administrative overhead. Add similar costs for the government employees and the analysis is more comparable. Uninformed cost comments based on emotion or appeal, not analyses, are inappropriate.

The NLRB IT workforce is about 50 percent government employees and 50 percent contracted employees. This is a successful, cost-effective mix that is consistent with the guidance given by the administration. We plan to continue in this direction.

Louis Adams

Chief information officer National Labor Relations Board

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