Agencies losing cyberspace race
- By William Matthews
- May 03, 2000
From the vantage point of Capitol Hill, members of Congress are watching
the race to cyberspace, and they see the government trailing far behind
the commercial sector, according to a panel of congressional staffers.
From computer security to research and development to technology management,
federal agencies are stumbling, the panel told the Armed Forces Communications
and Electronics Association on Tuesday.
Congress has tried to help by passing laws like the Clinger-Cohen Act,
which made it easier for agencies to buy computer equipment, but it has
not succeeded in getting agencies to "buy smarter," said Bill Greenwalt,
an IT specialist on the Senate Armed Services Committee staff.
For example, in a recent examination of 105 Defense Department technology
contracts, staffers uncovered 105 significant problems, Greenwalt said.
In part, he blamed sharp cuts in DOD's acquisition work force, which has
been compounded by an increase in the number of contracts to be administered.
In other cases, however, lackluster performance by government agencies
can be traced to inadequate policy administration, said Amit Sachdev, counsel
to the House Commerce Committee.
The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, has been plagued by
computer security problems. The Commerce Committee found that security policies
often were promulgated by senior agency officials but never carried out
by computer system managers. No audits were conducted to ensure that policies
were being implemented, and security breaches were never investigated, Sachdev
Much of the problem is "managerial," Greenwalt said, and Sachdev blamed
a lack of involvement in information technology by agency chiefs and ineffective
leadership by agency chief information officers.
A solution many in Congress favor is creating a federal IT czar. At
least three bills have been introduced to establish such a position, said
David McClure, an associate director of the General Accounting Office.
But the responsibilities and authority of a technology czar remain uncertain.
To be effective, the czar might need a degree of control over IT budgets
and would certainly need to have support from the president and cooperation
from agency chiefs, Greenwalt said.