Federal Bytes

WINGING IT. It's an odd convergence of "The Far Side" and "Dilbert," where humans and animals - and engineers - collide.

The National Science Foundation last month commissioned a report on "the migration patterns of scientists and engineers." The report will focus on professionals with computer science degrees and examine "how income levels relate to migration patterns."

This proposal conjured up images of flocks of guys with slide rules and pocket protectors soaring through the air, winging their way to new cubicles for the winter.

It's unclear whether the report will have graphics, but we suggest a collaboration by Gary Larson and Scott Adams.

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OH, BROTHER. Privacy International, a group of more than 100 privacy experts and human rights advocates, this month bestowed a dubious honor on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The FDIC received Privacy International's Big Brother Award - a gold statuette of a boot stomping on a human head - for a scheme the FDIC proposed called "Know Your Customer."

The initiative was designed to catch money launderers by requiring banks to monitor accounts and report any unusual activity to the feds. The proposal drew 250,000 angry correspondences before it was withdrawn, according to Privacy International.

The award was presented in a ceremony this month in Washington, D.C., in the fine tradition of Oscar night, complete with distinguished presenters. No word on whether the statuette, which Privacy International dubs the "Orwell" after the author of the Big-Brother-is-watching-you novel 1984, has found a private place to reside at the FDIC.

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SO BAD, IT'S GOOD. At a House hearing on how Year 2000 problems may affect the Department of Housing and Urban Development and its partners, the National Affordable Housing Management Association expressed plenty of confidence in its ability to weather whatever Year 2000 storms may come.

NAHMA's executive director, George Caruso, said any Year 2000 problems with HUD's Tenant Rental Assistance Certification System would pass almost unnoticed by its users. There have been so many problems with the system since it came online about five years ago that "we have long since developed the backup systems and cash management regimens to deal with an occasional late payment," he said.

In fact, when informed of a problem with TRACS this month, "the reaction was for the most part, 'So what else is new?' " Caruso said.

Failure can be a wonderful thing.

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WHERE'S THE T IN FTS? The people at the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service pride themselves on providing the latest technology and services to their federal customers. But when he became FTS' chief financial officer, Robert Suda found that almost all of the financial offices were functioning with pen and paper.

"Our middle name is 'technology,' and I walked in and said, 'Where is it?' " Suda quipped during a speech last week.

He quickly added that FTS is upgrading its financial offices and should be finished by the end of the year.

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