Federal Bytes

LONG ARM OF THE (BROTHER-IN-) LAW. Fresh off his tour as California chief information officer, John Thomas Flynn, now a vice president for Litton/PRC Inc., regaled attendees at last week's Federation of Government Information Processing Councils' Management of Change Conference with a story about his arrival to the state.

Smartly outfitted with a government car and car phone, it seems Flynn was flying down one Silicon Valley byway when suddenly his phone rang. "This is the California Highway Patrol," the voice said. "You've been clocked at over 80 miles per hour. Take the next exit and pull over immediately."

Simultaneously awed and frightened by the government's command of information technology, Flynn did as he was told, pulling out his driver's license and fretting over his missing registration. No one came.

After 10 minutes the phone rang again. "You didn't really fall for that, did you?" his brother-in-law asked.

We can only hope his co-workers at Litton/PRC take it easy on the new guy.

***

DOD TAKES THE CAKE. The Defense Department recently launched its second annual Electronic Commerce Day in Washington, D.C., with a simulated cake-lighting ceremony. Those of us lucky enough to be present during last year's inaugural event remember the electronic-candle lighting presided over by Defense Secretary William Cohen.

This year the audience was wowed by a simulated F-15 projected onto a large screen. The aircraft took off from within the courtyard of the Pentagon, flew over a large cake (obviously not an ice cream cake) and stopped in mid-air just long enough for its afterburners to light the candle, thus beginning another year of electronic commerce. Luckily for DOD, the plane was able to discern between the candle and the Washington Monument.

***

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE.... Flight delays at airports always tax travelers, but pilots get upset too.

While sitting in a line of about 20 planes waiting for takeoff from Chicago's O'Hare Airport last week, the pilot of one United Airlines jet told passengers over the public address system that he had tried to sweet talk air traffic controllers into letting him get out of line to use another runway but that they had refused his request.

Trying to keep his disgust in check, the pilot said, "Now, I know they have all these new computers they just put in here, and you'd think they'd be able to handle takeoffs from other runways, but it looks like they can't. But as soon as we get into the air, it'll be only an hour-and-a-half flight to Washington, D.C.—that's if we don't have any more help from our friends at the FAA."

***

A TAXING SITUATION. Virginia Gov. James Gilmore told attendees at the first meeting of the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce in Williamsburg, Va., that they should not underestimate the importance of the tax decisions that lie before them. He reminded them that they were meeting only a few blocks from where, several centuries before, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson had protested England's attempt to tax commerce in the colonies.

And we all know how that turned out.

***

A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY. The Energy Department, still reeling from the alleged theft of nuclear weapons information by Chinese spies, has an opportunity to gain valuable insight into information security issues—at the first China International Information Security Exhibition, to be held in Beijing later this year.

"The rapid development of the Internet in China has given rise to numerous problems related to information security, which has not come to many people's knowledge," according to a press release announcing the conference. "It is especially important as the country's security, sovereignty, finance and social stability are relying on the new technology."

Perhaps the Chinese can invite a DOE representative to speak on a "lessons learned" panel.

***

ELEMENTARY EDUCATION. One would think that given the overwhelming complexity of moving the entire Defense Department to a public-key security infrastructure, the documents containing the lessons learned from pilot programs would read something like a college calculus textbook. Think again. In a recent presentation by the Defense Information Systems Agency's Rebecca Harris, the lessons learned sounded more like something out of first grade.

See if you can keep up, kids. "Some things which seemed simple to remember turned out not to be," Harris said. Also, "Users are less willing to read documents than we thought."

And you thought PKI was a technical challenge.

***

WHAT, ME WORRY? A bumper sticker spotted on a red pickup truck parked at a Northern Virginia shopping center:

"Y2K SchmY2K"

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