White House Kicks Off 'Y2K Community Conversations'

The White House is convinced that Americans want "straight talk" on the Year 2000 computer problem, so it has assembled a toolkit aimed at communities struggling to develop public outreach campaigns.

Dubbed "Y2K Community Conversations," the project is spearheaded by President Clinton's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. The toolkit is available at www.y2k.gov/community/guide.html.

Included in the 15-page guide is a practical checklist that communities can use to orchestrate town hall-like meetings on the millennial date change. The toolkit also has paraphernalia such as posters and fliers that can be ordered by phone at (888) USA-4-Y2K.

"People are looking for straight talk about the Y2K readiness of their own local communities," according to the handbook, which describes some best practices in mobilizing citizens around potential Year 2000 issues. The guide includes three case studies of communities with competent public relations in place for problems associated with the date change.

The guide mentions San Antonio (www.ci.sat.tx.us/gsay2k/index.htm), where representatives from city services, utilities and health facilities rallied to form the Greater San Antonio Year 2000 Coalition. One of the most valuable lessons gleaned from the San Antonio exercise was to hold rolling meetings with local organizations-churches, chambers of commerce and neighborhoods-rather than one grand gathering.

Also noted is Lawrence, Kan. (ci.lawrence.ks.us/y2k/index.html), which asked the pithy question, "When was the last time your county government helped you operate your microwave?" The lesson taken from Lawrence is the value of structuring task force meetings around expert panels. "For example, meetings have focused on water and electricity, telephones, emergency services, banks and financial institutions," the guide states.

Lawrence officials noted that the greatest value to local businesses may be hearing that other businesses are tending to their Year 2000 fixes. The Lawrence task force has slated a summer preparedness drill, which will be followed by a countywide summit to brief local elected officials on the outcome.

Finally, the handbook cites Clearwater, Fla. (www.clearwater-fl.com), where a group of community members has formed Citizens for a Stable Community (www.make-y2k-safe.

com). Early this year, Computer Sciences Corp. recruited religious leaders and forged a partnership with Pinellas County, Fla., public safety officials to make sure that at-risk citizens are not endangered by any Year 2000-related problems.

*****

New York Mulls 'Identity Theft' Bill

In what might be the most comprehensive state effort yet to protect consumers from privacy violations that result from the use of technology, the New York State Assembly passed part of a legislative package aimed at safeguarding residents against identity theft, financial loss, damaged credit ratings and discrimination.

The bill, as well as companion Senate legislation due out late this summer, spells out privacy cures, including legal recourse for people who have their identities stolen; a requirement that the state Department of Motor Vehicles get consent from registrants before selling their personal information; and a prohibition on state agencies' disclosure of citizens' photographs. The bills also require state agencies to adopt Internet privacy policies.

"This legislation seeks to curb the rising threat that modern life poses to our private lives," said Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D), the chairwoman of the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee and a sponsor of several of the bills.

*****

Rural Calif. School Gets High-Speed Wireless Internet

An Internet service provider and a supercomputer center have announced a partnership to provide broadband Internet access and an Internet-enhanced curriculum to a disadvantaged minority school district in rural southeast California. As part of the project, high school students will take classes via the World Wide Web to determine the impact of computers and Internet communications on reading and math skills.

The project is a joint venture between the San Diego Supercomputer Center's (SDSC) Science & Technology Outreach program, funded by the National Science Foundation, and San Diego-based World Wide Wireless Web Corp. W4 will provide Internet connectivity, computers and other hardware, including a satellite dish.

The demonstration project will take place at the Mountain Empire Unified School District, more than a 90-minute drive from San Diego. The high school will develop the curriculum for Internet-based education. Some students will attend Internet classes, while the others will continue to be taught in the traditional classroom setting. "The goal is to see the viability of this, then go ahead and propose it for every rural district in California," said Steve Napear, associate director of SDSC's Science & Technology Outreach program.

Napear predicts that the project will demonstrate the relative low cost of satellite technology to provide high-speed Internet connectivity-about $10,000 per site. The project will use a large satellite dish on the roof of the SDSC and W4's Internet Satellite Access Program to test and enhance services to the high school, which will have a smaller satellite dish and a server linked to its computers. W4 will pick up the costs of the project, which will operate during the next school year.

*****

Rhode Island May Join E-Mall Fray

Rhode Island may enter the multistate electronic commerce pilot project known as E-Mall. Gov. Lincoln C. Almond (R) is looking into the effort-spearheaded by Massachusetts-with an eye toward the benefits E-Mall could bring to the state.

"The governor has tried purchasing-reform items in the past with limited success. We're hoping the uniqueness of this project will increase its chances," said John Rooke, Almond's press secretary.

Five states-Idaho, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Utah-are involved in the pilot project, which enables participants to pool their purchasing power by presenting themselves as a single entity to vendors.

John Celona, the Rhode Island state senator who brought the project to the governor's attention a few weeks ago, has started drafting legislation in support of joining the cybermall project, Rooke said.

*****

Schools short-change spending on software

To infuse technology into the curricula, schools have invested heavily in infrastructure and hardware, but software purchasing has been-and still is-low, according to a report by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA).

Nearly 40 percent of the nation's elementary, middle and high schools spend less than $5 per student on software-a figure that proves that technology has yet to permeate all subjects and lesson plans, said Sue Kamp, SIIA's director for the education market.

"It's just peanuts," Kamp said. "And it shows that if schools only have that amount to spend, they are not spending it on the entire curriculum but on targeted areas." SIIA research did not turn up a single subject as the most popular for software sales but instead found schools' buying clustered in reading, science and arts.

In "1999 Education Market Report: K-12," SIIA also noted an upward trend in schools' purchase of administrative software. "One future trend we are predicting is an effort to make sure administrative and instructional systems are integrated," Kamp said.

*****

Indiana County Tries 'Photo Breathalyzer'

The Community Corrections Department in Wells County, Ind., is trying out a new at-home breath alcohol test for repeat drunken driving offenders. The test unit, developed by Ameritech Corp. subsidiary SecurityLink (www.securitylink.com), relies on photography rather than voice recognition to confirm the offender's identity.

Recently, the county monitored 11 offenders using the new units. And at least two other counties in the state are setting themselves up with the service. "It's going very well," said Blake Poindexter, director of the county's Community Corrections Department. "It's more user-friendly for the offender and more officer-friendly."

When called for a random test, offenders sit in front of the unit, which takes a photograph of them. They blow into a device and hit a button, and their photo and data are sent instantly via phone lines to Security-Link's monitoring center. The test takes less than 20 seconds. SecurityLink notifies the corrections department only if an offender fails a test.

Poindexter's department is testing the new service alongside a voice recognition-based alcohol-detection device that it has been using for more than three years. Poindexter said the voice-print units are problematic and require more retesting because the devices can be thrown off by colds, allergies or even "middle-of-the-night" voices if offenders are awakened for testing.

"If offenders fail, county corrections is paged immediately, and they have to trouble-shoot problems at the home of the offender," said Poindexter, adding that the new unit has reduced stress for officers and offenders in dealing with retesting.

Poindexter also believes that the service provides the appropriate level of monitoring for drunken driving offenders who may be better served by close supervision than by an extended stay in prison. "It makes a lot more sense for us to use [these devices] on alcohol offenders than to build more jails and prisons."

*****

NIST's AutoBid Automates Police Patrol Car Shopping

Even the nation's police departments sometimes have trouble choosing the right car by balancing speed vs. fuel economy. But the U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology recently developed a Java software program to make the selection process a bit easier. AutoBid is a program that "calculates compromises and trade-offs" in choosing among the 10 models of police cars manufactured by four manufacturers, according to NIST.

NIST developed the program using results from Michigan State Police vehicle tests, an annual exercise to test all police cars on the market. The nation's police departments each year spend about $1.5 billion on 67,000 patrol cars. AutoBid is available as a Java application or applet at www.eeel.nist.gov/oles.

*****

California Governor Won't Sell Wage Data

Despite a law passed last fall that would let California's Employment Development Department (EDD) collect a premium by providing payroll information to private finance companies, Gov. Gray Davis (D) last month blocked the agency from selling any data.

"I believe a state agency entrusted with confidential personal information on millions of its citizens-information that was gathered for the purpose of carrying out a government service-has a responsibility to protect the privacy of those citizens," Davis said in a statement.

California's A.B. 604, which can be accessed through the Bill Information page at www.assembly.ca.gov/acs/acsframeset2text.htm, allows EDD to electronically provide private companies with wage and employment data "in connection with credit transactions."

The legislation also clears the way for EDD to charge for use of its data when that information is used to help government agencies determine levels of public assistance or in cases when agencies want to use EDD data to pursue individuals who may be abusing public benefits programs.

Davis also has signaled that he will push assembly leaders to reconsider their approval of the bill.

*****

E-commerce: 'Dangerous Liaison' for Public Sector

Electronic commerce is the key to self-service government but a threat to conventional tax and revenue systems.

Those ideas were at the core of discussions at last month's Summit on Governance in the Technological Millennium, hosted by the National Association of Counties (NACo) in Chapel Hill, N.C. The meeting, attended by 100 key leaders from state and local government, was held to assess the impact of technology on the public sector.

The leaders discussed trends that will define the government of the future, including integrated service delivery, self-service government, outsourcing and the challenges these trends pose to state and local governments, especially in terms of tax structures and revenue streams.

"The generations that are growing up now are growing up using computers," said Tom Goodman, NACo's director of public affairs. "Cities and counties need to be aware that they have to...use technology to...connect them into government."

Another element discussed at length was the idea that government needs to be flexible in its pursuit of technology. "Technology changes on a daily basis. We need to understand and deal with that in a positive way to make government more effective," Goodman said.

After the meeting, NACo pledged to assume a leadership role in the planning, development and dissemination of technological governance.

Other possible next steps include an intergovernmental conference on technology to clarify what cities and counties can do to integrate technology more fully into day-to-day operations.

*****

Civic Roster

* The chief information officer for the Missouri State Police, Jerry Wethington, will represent the National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE) on a presidential commission to examine global criminal justice initiatives and architecture issues.

Wethington was one of 32 criminal justice representatives appointed by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to the Global Criminal Justice Information Network, in support of Vice President Al Gore's Access America Initiative.

The network will examine ways to support integration, interoperability and access throughout the country and the criminal justice environment. "We'll be looking at standards, controls of operations, policy, legislation and public information access and trying to get the criminal justice community and its partners to define the environment that will support interoperability to make us more effective," Wethington said.

Missouri CIO and NASIRE president Mike Benzen said Wethington was the obvious choice. "Jerry understands criminal justice needs, the politics of it, who is concerned with what. He's the ideal choice for NASIRE to represent the 50 states," Benzen said.

Wethington has been the chairman of NASIRE's Justice Task Force since its inception last spring. This group is working to develop an information architecture to support interoperability among criminal justice and other government disciplines.

* New York state's Office for Technology is looking for a professional recruitment firm to conduct a nationwide search for a new state CIO. The office hopes to select a firm and start its search by early July, according to Tom Duffy, deputy director for the Office for Technology. The position of CIO has been vacant for more than a year.

* P.J. Ponder, Florida's director of technology, left his post May 28 to pursue independent consulting opportunities in the private sector. Ponder's replacement will be Mary Christopher, the assistant director of Florida State University's Center for Learning, according to sources familiar with the office.

In addition, a summit was scheduled June18 to unveil a process for the formation of a state-level governor-appointed CIO position.

* North Dakota CIO Jim Heck's retirement was effective at the end of June. Heck had led the state's technology efforts for the past 30 years and served in government for 40 years.

* When Steve Kolodney announced he was leaving his job as Washington state's CIO to pursue a private-sector job in Sacramento, Calif., he also left open his slot as the National Association of State Information Resource Executives' heir apparent. That status now goes to Otto Doll, South Dakota's CIO.

Kolodney has been first vice president for NASIRE since last fall. The first vice president traditionally has been the next in line for the group's presidency. Doll, who has been second vice president, was to become NASIRE's first vice president July 1.

*****

Bakersfield Site Habla Espanol

With more than 20 percent of its population Spanish-speaking, Bakersfield, Calif., faced the challenge of communicating effectively through its World Wide Web site.

Innovative thinking and new software have made the site more user-friendly for all of the city's constituents, including its more than 47,000 Spanish speakers.

By making itself available as a demonstration site to Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products, a company that specializes in speech and language technology, the Bakersfield site (www.ci.bakersfield.ca.us) is experimenting with the cutting edge of language translation software.

Here's how it works: By clicking on a Spanish translation icon on the site, English text is sent to an L&H server, which translates everything into Spanish and sends it back to the host site. Translated versions of frequently accessed pages are stored on the city's network. The cost to the city is about $100 per month.

The translations are not textbook-quality, but they are understandable. "We feel it's a good effort and worth doing, but there's definitely room for improvement," said Bob Trammell, director of the city's Management Information Services. "It's the state of the art in machine translation, but it's still machine translation."

Any translation delays come from the amount of traffic on the Internet at the time, but it's almost "on the fly," said Michelle Doherty, a spokeswoman for L&H.

In Bakersfield, Trammell has stepped up efforts to publicize the site. "Now we're beginning to get some articles in the local paper and stories on the local TV stations and are in the process of trying to get similar coverage from the Spanish papers and TV stations," he said.

*****

State Official Asks DOD to Jump-Start PKI for e-commerce

A North Carolina state official recently called for the U.S. Defense Department to assist states with developing a secure public-key infrastructure to support state and local electronic commerce efforts.

Jane Smith Patterson, senior adviser to the governor of North Carolina for science and technology, said that without help from DOD and other federal entities in getting state government PKI programs off the ground, "it will be 15 years" before state e-commerce programs become a reality, leaving the U.S. economy far behind the rest of the world in conducting business electronically.

"DOD needs to move out and call together" all the states "to begin looking at how we actually put in place the infrastructure to do electronic commerce," said Patterson, speaking at the second annual DOD Electronic Commerce Day, held last month in Washington, D.C. According to Patterson, only five states have PKI initiatives that have matured to the point where those states can begin to consider purchasing products.

Marv Langston, DOD's deputy chief information officer, said he would coordinate with Patterson in the next few weeks on how DOD can be of assistance.

A PKI is a framework for the use of digital signatures for secure communications and e-commerce, which government agencies and private enterprises need to conduct more of their business electronically.

Part of the reason that DOD is in a leadership position when it comes to PKI is the recent approval of a final Defense PKI policy, said Nick Piazzola, vice president of VeriSign Inc.'s federal markets division. DOD's PKI policy was put into place with a May 6 memo signed by John Hamre, the deputy secretary of Defense.

"The department now has a plan and a strategy of where it wants to go," Piazzola said. "More importantly, the [policy] puts real meat behind" DOD's PKI plan, he said. The memo, according to Piazzola, establishes PKI as the de facto standard throughout DOD for securing digital communications, and the memo stipulates that DOD will use commercial technology for its PKI initiatives.

Richard Guida, chairman of the Federal PKI Steering Committee, said he agreed with Patterson's sense of urgency. "In the PKI realm, everything is urgent," Guida said. In fact, he said he plans to go to North Carolina to begin discussions with Patterson and her staff in the next few months, and he also plans to visit Washington and Texas to talk about those states' PKI initiatives.

DOD and the federal government are well-suited to help state and local governments with their PKI programs, Guida said. "DOD is an engine of change," he said, primarily because of its market power. However, other agencies are out front on PKI, with more agencies growing their PKI pilot programs into larger production networks, Guida said.

*****

Baltimore Assays Online Auctions

Baltimore recently became the first city government to put its surplus warehouse merchandise up for sale through an online auction.

Classified Auctions.com LLC (at classifiedauctions.com) has been up and running since April and features thousands of items from the city's warehouse as well as merchandise from individuals attempting to reach consumers in the online marketplace. Goods from the surplus warehouse have been on the site since the beginning of June.

Although the city is excited about the venture, sales have been a little slow. "I like the exposure, but I've been a little disappointed in the activity," said Joe Zissimos, buyer supervisor for Baltimore's Bureau of Purchases. "You have a mental picture of the World Wide Web and the millions of potential buyers out there...but there's going to be growing pains realized. Still, the market has nowhere to go but up."

Classified Auctions.com enables online consumers to purchase Baltimore's surplus goods, which otherwise would only have been available to the few individuals aware of the bargains. The warehouse includes items such as books and office desks that the city doesn't need or want anymore.

The site also enables individuals to sell commodities online at no cost. A $1 fee per item will be implemented in the future.

"The site was designed to really help anybody," said John Brown, vice president of sales and marketing at Classified Auctions.com. "It allows the city...and individuals to reach a national marketplace and get their items out there at a low cost."

Merchandise bought and sold on the site includes cars, books, furniture, computer equipment and office supplies. Many items are digitally photographed and listed with a suggested price, previous bids, the date and time when bidding will close and an e-mail address to contact the seller.

"They have taken a really unique approach to the auction community by focusing on person-to-person trades," said Stacy Jones, marketing manager at InfoMech Internet Commerce, which helped set up the site. "This site brings the functionality to run local auctions...by bringing the auction to the local community."

Classified Auctions.com is trying to carve its own niche in the online auction industry by providing all the services associated with a traditional auction, except neither buyer nor seller ever has to leave the office. The company will, upon request, go to the site where the merchandise is located, digitally photograph it, write up a text description and put it all online to go to the highest bidder.

"We're looking to expand to many other municipalities and cities across the country," Brown said. "Our service is effective and cost-efficient to those who can't really market."

*****

DOT Wants to Standardize Intelligent Transportation

Intelligent transportation systems are improving for everyone, from the lone commuter on a rural highway to thousands of office workers taking trains to and from a city each day. The catch is that standards for ITS are not completely compatible in different regions of the country, from town to town or even state to state.

That's why the U.S. Transportation Department is looking for test sites to participate in the Intelligent Transportation Systems Standards Testing Program, an effort to create transportation safety standards nationwide.

"The DOT wants to test these performance standards and gain the support of product vendors and states to the fact that these things work," said Jerry Pittenger, a program manager for standards testing at Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle Corp., which DOT has enlisted to do research on the project.

"We want to show [that] the performance of the ITS standards is there in order to encourage both the public and private sectors to participate," he added. "We want people to recognize the standards and use them...and basically the 'people' are the states."

Pittenger said possible test sites could be anything from railroad crossings to individual vehicles. There are about 80 standards on the books, 55 of which will be tested through the sites selected for this program.

ITS standards to be tested include credentials for commercial vehicles, traffic management objects, protocols for buses and forward collision warnings in automobiles.

"The standards are changing some of the infrastructure out there in the field," Pittenger said, "so if you drive a car from the East Coast to the West Coast, everything's done the same way, and the data is translated consistently."

Testing should start at the first site by the end of this year, with the proj-ect scheduled to run through the fall of 2001, Pittenger said.

Any state, community or vendor interested in nominating a test site is encouraged to visit DOT's ITS Standards World Wide Web page at www.its.dot.gov/standard/standard.htm.

Featured

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.