Powell promises IT tools for State

Secretary of State Colin Powell is promising to deliver technology to the agency, which an advisory panel had pronounced more than a year ago as being behind the IT curve.

Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War, told a gathering of State employees Jan. 25 that he would get them the tools they need to do their jobs, including access to the Internet.

"We should have the ability at every embassy to e-mail and speak securely via the Net with every other embassy and every other office in Washington," he told the employees.

During a three-day program last summer about public diplomacy, some officials talked about a cultural and technological divide between State Department officials and those with its Office of International Information Programs — formerly the U.S. Information Agency.

IIP officials had a saying that if the telephone were invented today, State officials would prohibit phones from employees' desks.

Under Powell, that appears about to change.

"There should be no place in the State Department where you don't have access to the Internet. I live in the Internet," he said.

Powell said he would be bringing in top people to assess exactly what State's IT needs are. Those include Steve Case, chairman of AOL Time Warner Inc., and Michel Dell of Dell Computer Corp. Powell previously served on the board of America Online.

In late 1998, State's Overseas Presence Advisory Panel cited deficiencies in the department's international facilities, including the inability of workers at different agencies in the same building to communicate with each other via e-mail.

In April 2000, the agency budgeted $1 million to jump-start a system to let the agencies working in overseas locations communicate with each other via a single unclassified network. But by July, some members of Congress were still criticizing the lack of communication within the country's top cabinet department.

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