Feds Open New Round of GIS Funding

A federal geographic information system coordinating group is now accepting applications for a popular funding program designed to help state and local officials bolster community GIS efforts.

Made of representatives from 15 federal agencies and state and local governments, the Federal Geographic Data Committee has opened its Fiscal 1999 Cooperative Agreements Program. The program funds local government GIS projects that further FGDC's ultimate goal of building a National Spatial Data Infrastructure. NSDI was envisioned in 1994 as a GIS backbone for the nation. Its development relies heavily on efforts to advance the creation and sharing of geospatial data among all levels of government. Program information is available at www.fgdc.gov, and the deadline for applications is March 2.

Meanwhile, FGDC is honing plans for a new partnership program to further strengthen community GIS applications. President Clinton proposed in the fiscal 2000 budget the Community/Federal Information Partnership, which would make $39.5 million in seed money available to increase access to geographic information in communities.

Spawned by Vice President Al Gore's new community revitalization package, or "Livability Agenda," the program likely will raise the visibility of NSDI issues, said John Moeller, FGDC's staff director. "The real benefit is increased emphasis, recognition and the linkage of the value and benefit of geographic information to help deal with issues involved in creating livable communities: transportation, economic growth and population."

-- Meg Misenti

Clinton's FY 2000 Budget Pours Millions into Civic Technology

In its fiscal 2000 budget released this week, the Clinton administration pledged more than $283 billion in funding for state and local governments, up from fiscal 1999 estimates of $262 billion and $246 billion in actual spending in 1998.

In releasing the budget, the White House claimed that fiscal 2000 figures reflect a "commitment to giving state and local governments increased flexibility." About 62 percent of all state and local government grant money is used for Medicaid and other entitlement programs, 17 percent goes to capital investment projects, and the remainder is spread over areas that include education, training and social services.

In increasing funding for state and local governments, the White House underscored several priorities that rely heavily on technology spending. For example, the budget mentions efforts to promote "smart growth" among the nation's communities and adds $7 million to a federal geographic information system funding program to promote geospatial applications for better community land use.

Crime-fighting and education technology programs were also clear winners in the fiscal 2000 budget, including these areas:

U.S. Department of Justice

The Clinton budget proposes renews DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services program, devoting $1.28 billion to the new "21st-century policing initiative." Funded at $1.4 billion last year, COPS was created to strengthen the nation's police force by 2000, but was due to expire after that.

The proposed replacement program is aimed at "helping communities reduce crime by employing new technology and personnel." The technology centerpiece of the 21st-century program is a $350 million measure to establish a crime-fighting technology program, broken into three components:

  • $100 million to promote interoperability and data sharing among law enforcement, crime mapping development and crime analysis modeling.
  • $125 million for the development of crime-fighting technologies such as DNA analysis, crime lab improvement and upgrades to criminal history and identification record systems.
  • $125 million for improved public safety communications, an amount that is further divided as follows:
  • $80 million for the Public Safety Wireless Telecommunications Assistance Program to promote compatibility among federal, state and local law enforcement tactical radio networks.
  • $20 million for the Global Criminal Justice Information Network Initiative to create a nationwide network of criminal justice information systems.
  • $10 million for continued funding for the National Institute of Justice's Technology centers, which work with law enforcement to identify technology solutions such as digital camera systems;
  • $15 million toward advancing police communications and development of a program to develop the next-generation police patrol car.

The 21st-century program represents a net gain in terms of law enforcement technology funding, because COPS combined tech money with funding for police departments to hire civilian officers to bolster their uniformed police corps. The new program "provides law enforcement with 21st-century tools they need to fight 21st-century crimes," said Ray Fisher, associate attorney general.

U.S. Department of Education

Meanwhile, education technology spending also was increased. Overall spending levels for the Education Department went up $1.2 billion, or 3.7 percent over 1999 levels, to $34.7 billion.

Technology programs include the following:

  • The Technology Literacy Challenge Fund is funded at $450 million, $25 million more than last year, to help schools integrate technology into the curriculum and for teacher technology training. The program includes a new $30 million initiative to fund a technology teacher leader in middle schools and encourage schools to establish their own technology literacy requirements for middle school students. The fiscal 1999 program opened Jan. 12, and Education is accepting applications until March 12 (see www.ed.gov).
  • Community-based Technology Centers are funded at $65 million, a $55 million increase from 1999, to expand access to technology-based resources to low-income families. The funding will serve as start-up capital for communities looking to create technology centers in public housing, community centers and libraries. Families could use the centers to write resumes, do homework assignments, expose children to early education software as well as gain technology skills, take courses online and search for jobs.

Norris Dickard, senior policy adviser with the U.S. Education Department, said the big jump in funds is partly based on Commerce Department research that shows minorities are falling further behind in the PC ownership rates (see the report at www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/net2/falling.html).

Applications for 1999 funds will go online in mid-April at www.ed.gov, Dickard said.

U.S. Geologic Survey

The president's proposed budget also highlighted disaster recovery and geographic information system-related technology efforts. Specifically, the fiscal 2000 budget includes $838.5 million for the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) - a net increase of $40.6 million over fiscal 1999 levels.

The Clinton administration designated USGS as home to the technology components of the new high-profile "Livable Communities Initiative." Vice President Al Gore is spearheading the effort, which includes a $6.7 million community grant program to help local communities develop geospatial applications to facilitate land-use decision-making.

The new emphasis on livable communities will amount to an overall increase of $10 million for the USGS National Spatial Data Infrastructure program to promote a common GIS backbone.

Disaster Information Network

The administration pledged $8 million to improve the integration and coordination of disaster information between agencies responding to natural disasters, including hurricanes and floods. Cited as critical to the network are data standards, data exchange protocols and ready source lists of information and materials providers for early responders. Last year, the effort was funded at $15 million.

U.S. Department of Commerce

The fiscal 2000 budget includes a $2 million increase for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Grants program, a popular effort to promote advanced technology in underserved communities. The $2 million should be applied to applications that relate to the federal Next Generation Internet program.

- Jennifer Jones and Meg Misenti

Feds To Open New Digital Signature Contract

The U.S. General Services Administration plans to include authority for state and local governments to use a federal contract for digital signatures now under development.

The Access Certificates for Electronic Services (ACES) contract is intended to provide a commercial off-the-shelf solution to form part of the public-key infrastructure for electronic government. The digital certificates will verify the identity of people doing electronic business with the government.

"ACES represents the service delivery to put those policy in place," said David Temoshok, the team leader for Access America at the GSA Office of Governmentwide Policy Electronic Commerce program.

Although ACES is intended for federal agencies, there are plans to include wording that will authorize agencies to allow nonfederal use of the digital certificates, Temoshok said.

One example would be the food stamp program controlled by the Agriculture Department. While the USDA oversees the program, state and local authorities regulate actual use. This means local governments would need to be able to accept digital certificates when food stamps are distributed electronically, Temoshok said. The ability to use ACES also would allow for secure updating of personal information that determines an individual's benefits, he said.

-- By Diane Frank

California's Child Support RFP Hits Streets

At a bidders' conference held Tuesday, nearly 20 vendors were poised to jump on California's request for proposals to implement the state's new child support automation system, according to Gerri Magers, chief deputy director of California's Health and Welfare Data Center. This initial RFP, worth an estimated $2 million, will lead one vendor to the much larger statewide contract, potentially worth $300 million.

State officials last week unveiled plans for a new child support automation system, nearly 14 months after the state terminated a contract with Lockheed Martin IMS. It has been nearly seven months since state officials ironed out the best methodologies for system implementation and secured the legislativeapproval to move forward on the project.

The new procurement will require the winning bidders to take four county systems already in place and interface them with a new umbrella system to create a statewide case registry. Existing county systems primarily handle case management and child support collections. In the end, the system is supposed to improve the state's ability to establish paternity, locate parents and better enforce payment of child support.

"We will select four vendors who will do general system design. Whatever company has best design, the best cost and the best schedule will be the one selected to implement the statewide portion of the overall system," Magers said. California will choose the four vendors in April; the target date for completing the system is Oct. 1, 2001.

-- Meg Misenti (meg_misenti@fcw.com)

E-Rate Again Under Fire

Three congressmen last week launched a fresh attack on the Federal Communications Commission's E-Rate program, calling it a "backdoor tax" that should be immediately abolished.

In a Jan. 26 letter to fellow House of Representative members, Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.) urged support for upcoming legislation that would do awaywith the program.

Tancredo pledged to introduce the "E-Rate Termination Act." He said in the letter, "While no one can argue that such technological advancement is a worthwhile goal, we take great exception to the fact that this would beaccomplished through another tax on the American people."

The letter also condemned the program as a direct tax on long-distance customers. "Already, millions of dollars are available through a number of existing federal programs to improve technological capabilities, and, according to a 1997 survey by the Department of Education, 78 percent of schools are already connected to the Internet. Americans should not be forced to pay a hidden tax on top of this funding."

This latest round of political trouble for the E-Rate program comes just as schools and libraries are receiving millions in promised E-Rate checks, which had been held up for months by political haggling.

-- Jennifer Jones

PTI Steers Small Governments to Financing, Contracting Options

Local governments behind in their Year 2000 efforts and strapped for resources can turn to Public Technology Inc., which announced this week that it will offer new services to help jurisdictions struggling to beat the clock.

PTI -- the technology arm of the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and the International City/County Managers Association -- is offering procurement, financing and contingency planning services as it moves into the second phase of its "Y2K & You" campaign. PTI launched the campaign last year to raise awareness of the date-change issue and to help local governments become more proactive in efforts to address Year 2000 problems.

By tomorrow, local governments will be able to download from the PTI World Wide Web site [http://pti.nw.dc.us] a list of Year 2000 products and services vendors PTI has prequalified. The idea is to let local agencies use the pool of vendors in conjunction with their own requests for proposals. Also available on the site will be a Year 2000 contract template that local governments can download and modify with their own terms and conditions.

To swiftly finance Year 2000 efforts, local governments also will be able to use a national lease financing program through the National Association of Counties Financial Services Center. The program will cover local governments' hardware, software and services needs. To get quotes or additional information, call (800) 372-3008.

Also, PTI and its sponsoring organizations will host a series of workshops around the country to help local governments develop Year 2000 contingency plans. "The key word is collaboration at the national level and at the local level. It's governments reaching out to small business, chambers [of commerce] and non-profit groups. It's partnerships and alliances that stretch across the globe. That's our theme for the next 11 months," said PTI president Costis Toregas. "The more we concentrate on collaborative strategies, the better off we will be."

Toregas said he would like to saturate the country with workshops, but that that may not be possible. However, he said, "as a small number of jurisdictions go through the planning process, some guiding principles will emerge, and we will make those available to everyone over the Internet."

-- Meg Misenti

Y2K Reporting Snafu Creates State CIO Furor

As the Year 2000 draws closer, states may come under increasing pressure to account for the software remediation they have completed. But as the National Association of State Information Resource Executives has learned -- the hard way -- making claims about progress can be a risky proposition.

NASIRE president Mike Benzen this week dashed off an e-mail to state officials in an attempt to mitigate fallout surrounding a recent attempt by the association to get states to quantify their Year 2000 remediation efforts.

In response to a request last fall by President Clinton's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, NASIRE and the National Governors Association updated an online survey to set up a clearinghouse for "self-reporting" by states on their Year 2000 progress. Year 2000 czar John Koskinen and members of Congress are interested in quantifying states' Year 2000 status, just as a Year 2000 report card initiative has been put in place for federal agencies.

To comply with the White House request, NASIRE and NGA revived a joint online survey that had been on the NASIRE World Wide Web site since the spring of 1998. As part of the effort, association officials added new data fields, one of which required states to assign a "percent complete" of their Year 2000 work.

NASIRE then asked members to update their portions of the survey with the new information. But when several states either failed to update the survey or chose not to enter figures in the "percent complete" field, the system defaulted those values to zero.

The situation exploded when the Wall Street Journal published the raw figures, indicating that a handful of states had done nothing to prepare for the Year 2000 date change.

The political and economic fallout for states that were put at the bottom of the pile in the newspaper's report were severe. For example, one state CIO told civic.com that he has been contacted by a bond rating service that was concerned about the state's rating in light of its "Y2K problems."

Meanwhile, NASIRE became a target of anger by some state officials who had to deal with the publicity surrounding the incident. "During the last week, we have seen angry recriminations directed at the actions of NASIRE and specifically [our] Y2K committee," Benzen said in a Jan. 25 e-mail circulated to NASIRE members. "Until now, actions such as these have not been a part of the history of NASIRE, and the change is most unwelcome.""This regrettable incident has caused a great amount of pain and embarrassment for several of the states affected and created a PR nightmare," Benzen added.

He also addressed the practice of assigning numeric values to Year 2000 work. "The criticism that 'percent complete' is not perfect for measuring progress is well-founded. [NASIRE's] Y2K Committee discussed this issue at length and acknowledged that it fails to recognize efforts in working with those we regulate, such as banks and utilities, and it fails to measure our outreach efforts."

But he added that the "percent complete" field was a clear way to comply with the White House's request for progress report type of data. "Lengthy narratives from each state will not satisfy the requirement. Because most states have completed an assessment of data systems and are measuring progress as a percentage completed against the identified total from the assessment, the Y2K Committee chose to use this metric. This was not done because [the committee] believed it to be perfect or that it represents the entire story but rather because it was the best metric available for the purpose."

-- Jennifer Jones

CIO Guard Changes in Pennsylvania, Colorado

Charlie Gerhards today became Pennsylvania's new chief information officer, replacing Larry Olson, the first to hold the state's top tech post. Gerhards formerly served as the director of the Commonwealth Technology Center. Reached by phone, Olson would not comment specifically on his future plans but said generally that he will launch a new technology company. "I'll be pursuing a new technology-based business here in Pittsburgh," he said. A spokesman for Pennsylvania's Office of Technology said that in first accepting the CIO position, Olson had only committed to serving out Republican Gov. Tom Ridge's first term.

Meanwhile, Colorado also has made some changes in the state's technology leadership. The director of Colorado's Commission on Information Management, Steve McNally, has announced that he will leave his position to become the CIO for the state's Department of Labor and Employment. Brian Mouty, the state's Year 2000 project coordinator, will step in as acting director of the agency. So far the state has not kicked off its search for a permanent replacement for McNally.

-- Jennifer Jones and Meg Misenti

Moynihan Bill Would Set Up Matching Fund for State Y2K Fixes

U.S. Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill to establish a matching grant program that would provide financial relief to state governments struggling to prepare computer systems for the Year 2000.

The Y2K State and Local Government Assistance Programs Act of 1999 would require the federal government to pay $2 to every $1 a state spends to remediate its computer systems.

The proposal is geared especially to anti-poverty programs which straddle various government agencies, such as Medicaid, welfare and child support programs.

In a statement, Moynihan said the program not only would help pay for Year 2000 fixes but also would give agencies incentives to fix their existing systems.

-- Jennifer Jones

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