Lack of embassy e-mail 'laughable'

What would it take to bring American embassies overseas into the Internet

Age?

Peanuts, according to one congressman.

That's how Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) characterized the estimated $200

million price for equipping all State Department embassies with Internet

access and e-mail.

Mica's comments came during a meeting Wednesday of a House Government

Reform Committee subcommittee looking at State security issues.

Mica pointed out that embassies are not able to communicate with each

other because they lack information technology resources. Some do not even

have e-mail capability within their own facilities, he said.

"I am absolutely appalled. It's almost laughable," Mica said. He argued

that risks to American interests were too great not to wire the overseas

missions.

Rep. Christopher Shays (D-Conn.) spoke of one embassy where staff members

took turns using a single computer.

State Department officials explained that resources are stretched because

State also supports so-called tenant agencies at embassies, according to

testimony provided by David Carpenter, assistant secretary for diplomatic

security, and Jacquelyn Williams-Bridgers, State's inspector general. Tenants

are officials from other federal agencies who promote U.S. government or

commercial interests in the host country.

One problem has been that tenants have disagreed over what platform

to use, according to Carpenter, who also is director of the Office of Foreign

Missions.

Mica said he found that frustrating. "It appears the inmates are running

the asylum," he said.

Recently, State announced that it would use its facilities in Mexico

City and New Delhi, India, as test sites for a program to put all U.S. diplomatic

missions worldwide in touch with one another and with all other federal

agencies that have an overseas presence.

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