Clinton to expand computer donations

President Clinton plans to issue an executive order next month that will direct federal agencies to donate millions of dollars worth of surplus computers and peripherals to a wide range of educational organizations and programs, according to White House officials.

The order will broaden President Bush's November 1992 executive order that instructed federal agencies to donate surplus computer equipment "that is appropriate for use in mathematics and science curricula in elementary and secondary school education."

Under Clinton's order, federal agencies can donate excess computer equipment to curricula beyond math and science, a White House official said.

"This will give more children outside of math and science programs an opportunity to learn about computers," said Don Bard, founder of the Lazarus Foundation, a nonprofit group in Baltimore that collects used computers from businesses, governments and individuals to donate them to schools. "This is something we've been urging them to do."

Some government property managers, however, are skeptical about the effort. "It's a great concept, but in reality, implementation is very difficult" because agencies would rather sell the equipment, and much of the equipment is damaged, a knowledgeable source said.

The order will support Clinton's $2 billion, five-year Technology Literacy Challenge fund, announced last week. The fund's goal is to make children technologically literate by the 21st century by asking states to gather support from business, community groups and individuals. The schools will offer on-line learning resources, including Internet access.

A White House official said the order also will:

* Permit agencies to donate computers to preschool programs, such as Head Start, and to nontraditional educational programs, such as drug intervention programs, children's hospital educational programs and teen tutoring centers.

* Permit agencies to upgrade computers before donation.

* Direct agencies to give to enterprise and empowerment zones—areas designated to receive specific federal assistance.

* Designate the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to monitor agencies' contributions and federal employees' contributions of time and expertise in training.

OSTP apparently would replace the General Services Administration as the manager of the computer donation program. Under Bush's executive order, GSA is responsible for tracking agencies' computer contributions and is the co-chair of the Education-Related Federal Equipment Committee.

The Boston-based East West Education Development Foundation, which also collects old computers to donate to schools, claimed in a letter written to Clinton in 1994 that "GSA's process [of tracking and donating federal computer equipment] is slow, cumbersome and very wasteful."

The foundation called on Clinton "to issue an executive order to direct federal department managers...to dispose of their surplus technology themselves and cut the waste."

Monica Graves, an East West program manager, said Clinton's executive order would be "a huge advantage over the last [executive order]."

But donating those computers will still be a laborious task limited by laws, said Pat Fisher, property manager for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.

"There's a lot that has to be thought out before we get rid of old computers," she said. "We'll still have to follow laws and make sure the taxpayer gets the best value."

CDC now gives most of its old computer equipment, such as 486s and laser printers, to other federal agencies and universities that are conducting federally funded research.

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