Agencies losing cyberspace race

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

said.

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.

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