The Circuit

Hush-hush at Customs

Officials at the U.S. Customs Service won't call it a "gag" rule, but there is a deafening silence coming from the agency on its plans to award a $1.3 billion contract to modernize its ancient information technology systems. People directly involved with the contract are not allowed to talk about it, according to Customs spokesman Dennis Murphy. He confirmed only that the plan is to award the contract by the end of April. Although the names of the companies who have thrown their hats into the bidding ring have not been revealed, we hear they include three teams led by IBM Corp.,Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) and Electronic Data Systems Corp.

IRS Boot Camp

What better way to spend a week than trying to figure out how to improve your Web site? That's exactly what Terry Lutes did with a group of Internal Revenue Service officials. Lutes, head of the Electronic Tax Administration,recently spent a week participating in a project in Cambridge, Mass. The goal was to see how the IRS Web site really works and how to improve it.The group's conclusion was simple: It's time to redesign. The IRS will award a contract shortly to do just that, with the goal of helping visitors find information with just one click instead of several.

How It All Began

The new man at Treasury's helm knows more than a little about technology.Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill told an audience at last week's Treasury 2001 IT Conference — sponsored by Treasury and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association — that his first job in public service was asa computer analyst at the Veterans Administration (now the Department of Veterans Affairs) before eventually becoming president and chief executive officer of Alcoa Inc.

"I started at the humbling end of the business," he said.

Tabloid Journalism

The journalistic writings of the country's first Treasury Department secretary and co-author of the Federalist Papers could be online at the New York Post Web site by the end of the year. Alexander Hamilton founded the Post in 1801 after serving in the Continental Congress and heading Treasury under George Washington. The tabloid plans to have its entire archive of papers digitized by November, in time for the bicentennial of the "Federalist Papers."

Don't Phone It In

Your need to call the office while driving to work may get pricey if the District of Columbia Council has anything to say about it. A bill would make talking on a wireless phone while driving — or placing or receiving a call for that matter — a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine. Similar attempts to keep wireless phones out of the hands of drivers have failed in Virginia and Maryland. Although official statistics are, of course, sketchy,drivers also are increasingly using laptop computers, fax machines and other devices to send and read e-mail. Talk about working 24/7.

Exits

Ed Meagher got a Valentine of sorts last month. His nomination to be chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs died when Democrats lost the White House, and his contract to work expired Feb. 14.But he was given another 90 days to do the job while a panel seeks a replacement.It's tough being a Democrat these days.

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