With liberty and laptops for all?

The federal government should take a cue from the private sector and give

each federal employee a PC and Internet service, a top Army official said

last month.

Miriam Browning, the Army's director of information management, made

the comment at the Virtual Government 2000 conference in Washington, D.C.

"If Delta and Ford can do it, so should we," she said, adding that the Army

is considering giving its recruits laptops. Ford Motor Co. last month announced

plans to give its 350,000 employees home PCs and Internet access for a small

fee, and Delta Air Lines made a similar pledge.

"I see a lot of merit to that concept," said Helen Wood, director of

the Office of Satellite Data Processing and Distribution at the National

Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "I think part of the goal is to

try and increase productivity. Plus, there's the realization that not all

the work is done in the offices on an 8:30-to-5 basis. So by providing the

portability, you're going to harness some energy that you [didn't] get otherwise."

Ira Hobbs, deputy chief information officer at the Agriculture Department

and co-chairman of the CIO Council's Federal Workforce Committee, agreed

that, at least in theory, the idea makes sense. "The government already

buys a lot of laptops [for] employees who are on travel, in the office or

in home work situations," he said. USDA meat inspectors, for example, use

laptops at remote sites and file reports via the Internet.

Still, obstacles including funding, infrastructure and worker support

must be addressed, but solutions exist. Laptops that attach to PCs via docking

stations at the office, for example, offer flexibility and portability for

workers.

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