Federal Bytes

TRUE OUTSOURCING INITIATIVE. Not following protocol in the military can bring a program manager problems, but not always the kind you would expect.

When Steve Miller moved to his position as deputy director of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Special Operations Force System Program Office, he found a network full of incompatible hardware, software, support and communications. He tried to improve the situation by putting in the Air Force's first desktop outsourcing contract - without asking the base commander for permission.

Miller said he didn't intend to be a pioneer; he just wanted to straighten out the infrastructure. He finally did notify his commander - just before the contract was awarded.

The general definitely had something to say: Make sure the contract can be expanded to the rest of the base if it works for his office.

AN AGE-OLD PROBLEM? As Jan. 1 approaches, most federal officials clearly are feeling good about the government's ability to manage the Year 2000 computer problem. But that wasn't the case a year or so ago, when Y2K was making everyone a little tense.

Take, for example, Commerce Secretary William Daley.

Last year Commerce discovered that the temperature alarm system for its supercomputer in Gaithersburg, Md., couldn't be upgraded for Year 2000 compliance. To buy some time, the department decided to move the operating clock on the alarm back 50 years, which the engineers claimed was an arbitrary time span.

But Daley said he wondered whether the 50-year rollback really had to with the fact that he was about that age. Rather than being alarmed about it, though, wouldn't be nice if we could all roll back a few years?

THE SUNNY SIDE. As if the Year 2000 computer problem hasn't caused enough consternation, now we have to worry about solar flares.

In May 1998 flares on the Sun's surface interfered with some satellite operations, leaving many people without pager service and causing some grief for broadcasting companies. According to the World Wide Web site managed by the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, the next peak in solar flares will occur in late 1999 and early 2000.

But there may be a silver lining here, especially for some IT support shops: If Year 2000 problems do occur over the New Year's holiday weekend, agencies may not be able to page them.

GENERALLY SPEAKING. Brandeis University professor Adam Jaffe recently gave an audience a new perspective on the value of numbers.

Jaffe spoke last week at an event in Washington, D.C. - the Summit on Innovation: Federal Policy for the New Millennium, sponsored by the White House National Science and Technology Council - and showed a chart depicting the relationship between the growth in the number of technology patents obtained by federal labs and the growth in the number of patents obtained by universities.

But when asked about it afterward, Jaffe replied, "That chart was a generalization, and all generalizations are false."

That isn't specifically like the famous Mark Twain quote about the three types of falsehoods: "Lies, damned lies and statistics."

But it's generally the same sentiment.

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