Letters to the Editor

Slow FTS 2001 transition not costly

Your editorial "Transition Travails; No Mere Threats" (Federal Computer Week, March 6) contains sweeping claims about the government's transition to the FTS 2001 program that are dead wrong — namely that incumbent vendors have delayed the transition by "not passing off the work fast enough" and that the government is losing money "because agencies are not able to take advantage of FTS 2001's lower rates."

Though not named in the editorial, AT&T is one of the incumbent vendors and wants to set the record straight:

    * As Federal Computer Week has reported, the slower-than-expected transition is attributable to a number of factors, including the Year 2000 changeover period as well as the preparedness of an FTS 2001 awardee. For our part, AT&T has cooperated fully with GSA and agency customers during the transition to FTS 2001 and will continue to do so.

    * Also as reported in FCW, AT&T's FTS 2000 bridge contract offers the same competitive prices as FTS 2001. The government is not paying more by using AT&T it has been saving money through the bridge contract since spring 1999.

Rochelle Cohen

Deputy director for media relations

AT&T

No time-saver

I read with interest the article "Success in Record Time" (Federal Computer Week, March 6). Perhaps instead of interviewing Rich Drury, NIH's director of human resources technology development, the author should have talked with those of us who have to use the Integrated Time and Attendance System (ITAS) system.

The truth is, people really hate it! There have been numerous problems with those of us who work off-shifts, holidays and weekends.

The system cannot accommodate staff who must sign in on one day and sign out on the next. The system either refuses to let staff sign out for the correct amount of time earned or it refuses to let them sign out at all. Holiday pay continues to be missing or misapplied. Shift differential is often missing.

The system has been so bad that currently every nurse's time card must be reviewed by timekeepers by hand before submission. It certainly hasn't taken "... the timekeeping out of timekeeping." It has increased workloads on the timekeepers and placed an additional burden on the medical staff, who have no timekeeping experience.

June A. Kryk, RN, MS, OCN

National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.

Indeed, the new ITAS recently launched at NIH has been a "major paradigm shift." Perhaps the majority of employees "really like it," but for those of us who work non-traditional schedules the system has been a nightmare.

I work rotating evening and night shifts, weekdays, weekends and holidays as a nurse in the NIH Clinical Center. My evening shift often extends past midnight, and ITAS has not been able to correctly register my actual hours worked when one shift crosses two calendar dates. My paycheck often has no correlation with my ITAS time card. For example, despite my time card correctly indicating that I worked Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I have yet to receive pay for that holiday.

Since the institution of ITAS, others of my nursing colleagues have received no pay at all for an entire pay period, or checks that represent less than one shift's salary for an 80-hour-pay period.

When ITAS was first made operational at NIH, nursing personnel received little-to-no instruction in its use. The symbols encoding the multiple variations on types of leave earned or used were never explained to us, making it difficult to verify the correctness of one's time card, yet it is now our responsibility to do so.

The tremendous numbers of hours of pay and/or leave lost due to ITAS glitches are long-delayed in being restored, and because of the delays and confusion, we may never be able to feel assured that all the errors are rectified. Since ITAS began several months ago, I have had more pay and leave errors than in all the 20 years of my federal career prior to ITAS combined.

My supervisors and immediate timekeeper have all been outstanding in their support and efforts to correct the problems created by ITAS. I would amend the final sentence of your article: ITAS certainly "takes the timekeeping out of timekeeping"... it also takes the accuracy, the ease of error correction, and the trust out of timekeeping.

Name withheld by request

NIH

IT visa policy needs rethinking

Some comments about the article "IT worker relief in sight" (Federal Computer Week, March 13):

What is missing from this article and the discussion of the shortage of information technology professionals is [the question: H]ow many of the increased numbers of H-1B visas are earmarked for foreign IT professionals?

The answer: Zero!

Using the figures provided in this article, of the 115,000 H-1B visas available, about 50 percent, or 57,500, will be given to foreign IT professionals. With the increase of 80,000 more visas that Sen. Hatch (R-Utah) is proposing, if 50 percent, or 40,000, of those visas go to foreign IT professionals, who gets the other 40,000?

If Congress is serious about helping the United States gather in more IT professionals, it should earmark and restrict all additional H-1B visas to foreign IT professionals only! Presently, H-1B visas are issued to a variety of professionals.

Occupational therapists (OTs), who provide needed medical, personal, and life skills therapy to injured, disabled and elderly patients within the United States, have a fairly high unemployment rate right now. However, foreign OTs can be brought into the United States on H-1B visas. U.S. OTs, when employed, have a fairly high compensation package. Foreign OTs, like foreign professionals of all skill groups, tend to receive lower initial compensation packages.

A flaw in Hatch's proposal is the paucity of the number of visas. The Virginia Employment Commission claims a shortfall of 14,000 IT professionals in Northern Virginia alone. Various claims attributed to Texas officials are that Texas has a shortfall of 150,000 IT professionals. Officials in others states make similar claims.

A major flaw in Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-Texas) bill is that visa holders will be allowed to stay up to six years. That puts them within easy reach of obtaining U.S. citizenship. Does that send the wrong signal to U.S. IT professionals and foreign governments?

Smith's bill also does not limit H-1B visas to foreign IT professionals only. The increase in visa fees in Smith's bill does not go far enough in encouraging U.S. senior and junior high school children to choose a more challenging technology education. It will take serious work in all of our states to solve the IT shortfall, not just the nine mentioned in the box.

Gary L. Dickson

Federal Highway Administration

Transportation Department

Internet tax: No simple answer

I am always amused and saddened when a totally uniformed position finds its way to the pages of your otherwise well-informed publication. I am speaking specifically about Timothy Sprehe's opinion article ("Tax-free Internet means fewer IT workers," Federal Computer Week, March 6).

First he takes a gratuitous slap at the entire information technology industry when he says "... of course [it is] solidly lined up in the ranks of tax-free Internet proponents." The fact is that many IT trade organizations, such as the American Electronics Association, have specifically acknowledged that Internet commerce ought to submit to the same tax policies as other industries, but only when (and if) the tax policy does not specifically discriminate against the Internet as the delivery medium. Let me explain.

There are two fundamental problems in the taxation of Internet commerce. The first is the specification of what jurisdiction is entitled to receive the tax (the "nexus"), and the second is who should be responsible for collecting and remitting the tax to the taxing authority.

The first issue is the thorny one. Only a couple of generations ago, the sale of a product and its use generally took place within a few miles of one another. Sales tax was collected at the point of sale, and nexus was assumed to be at that location.

With the explosion of catalog selling, however, the problem grew dramatically. The nexus of taxation was presumed to be at the recipient's address. The catalog companies have generally been successful in moving the collection and remittance responsibility to the buyer.

Enter the Internet era. Consider the following hypothetical, but realistic, sales event. The CIO of a law firm who lives in Connecticut buys a copy of Windows 2000 from a reseller in Massachusetts. The software is loaded on a server in New Jersey for use by the law firm with offices (and users) in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Where should the point of taxation be?

To compound (and confound) the problem, what if the software were downloaded from a Web site located offshore? Absent any sensible set of rules, we could have states fighting over the sales tax revenue. Who will be the Solomon to decide which state "deserves" the tax revenue? Should Microsoft collect it, or [should] the reseller? Will the tax auditors from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, Illinois and California demand the tax payment from the law firm one at a time or all at once? You get the picture.

Mr. Sprehe's article is just too simplistic. Our industry is prepared to pay its share of the tax burden. We just want consistent rules to follow that take the guesswork out of our tax policy. When the Internet tax commission comes up with those rules, we will be among the first to support their introduction. It could be a long wait!

Ed Bersoff

CEO, BTG Inc.

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