- By Judi Hasson
- Apr 17, 2000
Sawing Away on the Internet
Members of Congress are still having trouble using the Internet, no
matter how hard they are pushing the digital revolution.
During a recent House Small Business Subcommittee hearing on the implications
of electronic commerce, it became apparent that subcommittee chairman Rep.
Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) was not as Internet-savvy as perhaps he should be — after all, his subcommittee is one of the first stops these days for the
e-commerce train. But Bartlett told of his efforts to find a 16-inch saw
to build a log cabin.
Unable to find the item in a store, Bartlett asked his son, an "Internet
expert," to search the World Wide Web. Bartlett never quite explained why
he didn't do it himself. But his son found the saw, purchased it, and Bartlett
was able to continue laboring on his Lincoln Logs.
Uncle Sam Online for You
Got a question for the government but don't know who to ask? Soon you
will be able to e-mail Uncle Sam. That's the vision the CIO Council, the
President's Management Council, the National Partnership for Reinventing
Government and other government organizations have for a future portal to
the federal government.
Modeled after AskJeeves.com, the commercial Web site that answers questions
from A to Z, the AskUncleSam.gov site will be a central point of entrance
to federal government information. The site is secured, but a company already
owns the AskUncleSam.com domain and that could spell trouble down the line
for consumers trying to find answers and confusing dot-gov with dot-com.
It's Not All Work and No Play
Peter Thorp, Netscape Communications Corp.'s vice president for federal
business, isn't a champ just on the Internet battlefield. He's a soccer
coach, too, with a world-class team from Potomac, Md. The U-14 boys' team,
which includes his son Eric, is the Maryland state champion and will be
competing in the Nike Cup World Championship. Just how much time does Thorp
spend on the team? About two nights a week, he says. "The Web enabled us
to communicate," he said.
Meanwhile, word on the soccer field is that another well-known Internet
executive wrote a not-so-puny check to help his child's travel soccer team
stay competitive on and off the field. The team is thinking about going
to Europe to play, too. Needless to say, doing high-tech business with the
federal government is very, very profitable these days.
IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti is singing the blues to Congress about
how much money the agency needs to modernize its computer systems and keep
doing audits. In the last three years, the number of audits performed has
dropped by one-third because of the lack of money to hire staff to scrutinize
taxpayer returns for errors or fraud, he said.
That's hardly any comfort to Pacific Bell, which is facing a complaint
by New Networks Institute. NNI has accused Pacific Bell of taking tax deductions
totaling $3.4 billion for replacing copper wiring with fiber optics, costing
$250 to every residential customer.
But according to NNI, the work was never done. The IRS has confirmed that
it will evaluate NNI's claims against Pacific Bell's write-offs. The institute,
a New York-based consumer group for telecommunications issues, has filed
similar complaints against the other Baby Bells.
The Old-Fashioned Way
Meanwhile, Tim Schmidt, director of end-user computing support at the
IRS, addressed a knowledge management conference April 11 in Washington,
D.C., and proved that old habits die hard.
"You've heard of the kinder, gentler IRS? You have a week left to file,"
he joked. The IRS has spent billions of dollars on computers and software
to improve performance and better satisfy its "customers," who are still
under the gun to file by April 17.
Cheaper to Outsource
The Transportation Administrative Service Center Computer Center, which
offers data processing and data storage services to government agencies
on a fee-for-service basis, is slated to close this summer in favor of procuring
the services from industry.
The Transportation Department's inspector general recommended closing
the center in a report last March because it charged twice as much for processing
and six times as much for storage compared with other federal centers. Although
it won't meet the May 1 deadline imposed by Congress, DOT expects to shut
down the Washington-based center by summer.