Plan puts all employees on the Net by summer

The General Services Administration plans to make the Internet available to every one of its 15,000 employees by this summer, claiming it is the first federal agency to put every worker, regardless of grade, into cyberspace.

In one of his first messages to GSA employees this month, acting administrator David Barram urged his employees to make use of the Internet for research as well as for internal collaboration and communications on the agency's forthcoming intranet service, slated for mid-June.

"Our intranet home page, which will be called Insite, will deliver information and services exclusively for GSA employees," Barram wrote. "But I don't want to confine you to the internal GSA network. You should be able to use the external Internet for research and exploration. I'm convinced that you will bring back valuable new ideas about how we can improve the way we do business."

Deputy administrator Thurman Davis said last week that Barram's message merely stated a goal and was not a formal edict to employees. He described the message as an attempt to "lead a horse to water.

"We just want employees to have access to the Internet by [June 14]," he said. "The next step is that we've asked all our managers to tell us how we can use the Internet to enhance the way we do things. That will move us forward a quantum leap."

Joe Thompson, GSA's chief information officer, said giving employees direct access will save time and money.

"The Internet is going to be the medium of exchange for all kinds of information, electronic commerce, electronic document interchange, health care and communicating with your congressman," he said. For GSA, "the Internet will allow us to respond to emergencies faster, find spare parts and services we need faster."

Employees also will be able to access certain GSA databases to answer work-related or personnel questions that traditionally have been conducted through letters or phone calls.

And Web Browsers to Boot

To achieve its goal, GSA will not put a computer on every employee's desk but will place computers with Web browsers and electronic-mail software in common rooms, such as conference rooms, cafeterias and lobbies.

To do so, GSA will have to upgrade many computers and purchase software packages. The total cost of the project will be less than $30 per employee per year, which is "less than an annual magazine subscription," Thompson said.

About 4,500 GSA employees have access to the Internet now. GSA officials did not know the total number of software packages and computers they would need to purchase to complete the project, but Thompson said it was minimal.

Other agencies, particularly those involved in the sciences, have made the Internet available to all employees or nearly all.

At the National Science Foundation, all 1,200 employees have access to the Internet either through their own PC or through NSF's library computer, which can be accessed by workers on the loading dock or in the mail room, an NSF spokeswoman said.

At NASA, which helped develop the Internet, nearly every employee has Internet access. "We have access for every person who wants it or needs it," said a NASA telecommunications expert. "Maybe some people, like a guard in a guardhouse or the person who cuts the grass, don't have access to a computer. But I'm not sure they need it."

But providing Internet access to every employee, regardless of grade, is a valuable tool and makes good management sense, said Greg Woods, who, as a senior staff member at Vice President Gore's National Performance Review, works on the National Information Infrastructure.

"As the vice president says, you want to push information out to the front lines, where change is encountered first," Woods said. "That's the new model, and the model is being made possible by the Internet."

Woods added that access to information "frees employees to find out how to do their jobs better. It takes people who are stale in their jobs and gives new inspiration to do things because they have access to new information."

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