USDA Offers Disclosure Filing Online

The Agriculture Department has become the first federal agency to give top-level employees the option of filing their annual financial disclosure forms over the Internet.

Many agencies have the form available on computers, but USDA is the first to offer it over a World Wide Web site on a secure database. The 650 USDA em-ployees required to file financial disclosure forms this year can simply click on the USDA Office of Ethics page to find the proper form to fill out.

"We're doing it over the Internet, which we think is a lot less user-hostile," said John Surina, Office of Ethics director. "This is like ordering a book over Amazon.com."

However, the forms still must be signed the old-fashioned way.

The information is public record, but it cannot be viewed online, Surina said. Citizens have to request a written record.

Clinton Pushes for Rural Access

President Clinton on Wednesday said that rural America should have easier access to the Internet through high-speed telecommunications services.

As part of his New Markets Tour designed to underscore divisions between rural and urban America, Clinton released a report by the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the U.S. Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service during a stop in Whiteville, N.C.

The report concluded that high-speed Internet access through broadband services has been deployed in urban areas far more than in rural communities.

Congress and many federal agencies are struggling to figure out how to provide access and equipment to areas far from urban centers.

The Agriculture Department, a prime mover behind providing greater access to farmers, is working to make information and services for farmers available online. And several Democratic senators introduced legislation April 13 that would provide $11 million a year to develop a National Center for Distance Working to promote telecommuting.

"Rural workers need jobs. High-tech employers need workers. This legislation would create models of how to bring these communities together to find a common solution to these separate challenges," said Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), a co-sponsor of the bill.

DOT Sees Imaging Systems in its Scope

The Transportation Department is taking another step toward a paperless working environment with the planned award of two contracts for document imaging systems by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to an FAA contract announcement.

The first contract with 170 Systems Inc., Cambridge, Mass., will be for an enterprisewide Electronic Document Management and Imaging System with an unlimited license for software and technical support for DOT. The contract will be for five months with four one-year options to extend it.

The other contract with 170 Systems is to install and implement the FAA Southern Region Electronic Document Management and Imaging System Pilot in Atlanta.

Based on a market survey, DOT found that 170 Systems had the only commercial off-the-shelf product with the ability to integrate with Oracle Corp.'s Oracle Financials. DOT is transitioning its accounting and budgeting systems to the Oracle application by June 2001.

Placing all department documents in electronic form will make them automatically auditable during the annual verification of financial statements, said David Kleinberg, DOT's deputy chief financial officer.

EPA: Clean Toxic Data From Web Site

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a regulation April 27 that would prohibit information about toxic waste sites and dangerous chemicals from being posted on its Internet site.

To keep sensitive information out of the hands of terrorists, the rule would prohibit the posting of information such as the size of the population in an area near a chemical plant and other information routinely filed with the EPA by hazardous-materials facilities.

The EPA and the Justice Department prompted the rule, which has a 45-day comment period, in the wake of their concerns that information filed by chemical companies with the EPA could be misused by terrorists or other criminals.

"The risk of terrorists attempting in the foreseeable future to cause a potentially catastrophic chemical release is both real and credible," the EPA said in its proposed rule. "Terrorists increasingly engineer their attacks to cause mass casualties to the populace and/or large-scale damage to property."


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