Report: Agencies' Internet, BBS tab hits $349 million

Federal agencies spent $349 million on Internet and electronic bulletin board system activities from fiscal 1994 through 1996 according to a report that was released last week by the General Accounting Office.

The bulk of the expenditures about $325 million was spent on giving employees access to the Internet and establishing World Wide Web sites the report concluded. The 42 agencies that responded to the survey estimated that they provide Internet e-mail access to about half of their employees and Web access to about 31 percent.

"[The report] gives us a good benchmark for where we go from here " said Jim Burow assistant director General Government Division at GAO. "Also [the Office of Management and Budget] is looking at developing guidance on establishing Web sites." The report was requested by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

OMB this summer plans to release its governmentwide guidance on how agencies should establish and maintain Web sites. "The study is useful but not necessarily something [OMB] will model its guidance on " an OMB spokesman said.

DOD Is the Big Spender

Not surprising the Defense Department spent the most about $145 million providing Internet access to its employees and establishing Web sites. The Environmental Protection Agency spent the most - $5.5 million - to establish and maintain bulletin board systems.

Some agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development the Small Business Administration and the EPA reported that they give all their employees e-mail addresses. And some smaller agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission provide all employees with Web access.

Warren Suss president of Warren H. Suss Associates said the study shows that agencies are convinced the Internet is a good way for them to provide services to the citizen. "Dollar for dollar they get more out of their investment in the Internet than they do in personnel " Suss said.

But Ron Hack director of the Office of Systems and Telecommunications Management at the Commerce Department which worked with GAO on drafting the survey warned that the numbers in the survey are not exact. Most agencies don't itemize Internet expenditures he said so most numbers are estimates.

"I am concerned that Congress will be concerned at how much money is being spent when not all is being spent on [Internet access] " Hack said. "I go back to the National Performance Review when Vice President Gore says the government should empower its employees. The Internet allows the government to do that. "What we're doing is not that different than what industry is doing. I think that is almost in itself a validation."

While Hack agrees there should be some guidance on when a Web site should be established agencies and OMB should be careful not to go overboard. Richard Kellett division director in GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy said the report demonstrates that "it's not techies on an exception basis that are using the Internet." The study should serve as a wake-up call to agencies that are not giving employees Internet access he added.

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