Letters to the editor

Defending NCLIS

J. Timothy Sprehe is an incisive observer of federal information policy, but in his March 26 column, "NCLIS' wasted motions," there were a few matters where Tim's description of events differs from mine.

For example, Congress didn't ask the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science to study the proposal to kill the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). We had already done that study on our own. In reaction to that effort, Congress (specifically, Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman) requested a much broader study. They wanted, to use Tim's words, "a comprehensive assessment of how public information is disseminated," and that's what we gave them.

As Tim reports, NCLIS did assemble four panels and a dozen experts but certainly did not, as Tim claims, ignore their findings. The panel findings were published in full in the appendices to the final report and are available on the NCLIS Web site at www.nclis.gov/govt/assess/assess.html. Nearly all the concepts put forth by the panels were incorporated in the NCLIS report. However, NCLIS never intended to be a rubber stamp for the panelists and experts. The commission's recommendations were independently developed based on input from many sources. This process was clearly described on pages 1-41 of the final report.

Tim also claims that the report was written in secret. The record says otherwise. Early drafts of the report were posted on the NCLIS Web site. A draft report was released prior to a commission meeting in November. A public session was held in December to seek further comments on the draft. Although Congress has relieved NCLIS of the Office of Management and Budget's legislative clearance process, the commission nevertheless provided OMB with a draft report. OMB circulated the report to many agencies and provided important feedback that NCLIS incorporated.

Where Tim does the greatest disservice to the NCLIS efforts is in his offhand dismissal and trivial characterization of the commission's 36 substantive recommendations.

Most important among the recommendations is the commission's call for a formal recognition of information as a strategic national resource — on a par with land, labor and capital and deserving improved management and budgeting.

NCLIS recognizes 21st-century realities in its recommendation that each agency have broad, explicit information dissemination authority in its statutory mission. We know that distributed information dissemination, using tools like the World Wide Web, is the best way of ensuring that the information created by government is made available to the people.

Acting as an essential coordinator of these activities is the proposed Public Information Resources Administration (PIRA). This central service agency could be a paragon of 21st-century electronic information handling. It would not be a redundant bureaucracy; it would streamline government because it consolidates existing entities (such as the Government Printing Office's Superintendent of Documents, the Commerce Department's NTIS and the General Services Administration's FirstGov). PIRA would be available to help any agency fulfill its information dissemination requirements and would provide the means for permanently safeguarding agency information no longer provided on agency Web sites.

Tim Sprehe describes PIRA as weak and ineffective and says we don't need it. The PIRA that NCLIS envisions is anything but weak. Like NCLIS itself, the envisioned PIRA will be a purposeful and effective organization. PIRA will play an important role in ensuring that the information needs of all the American people are fully met.

Robert Willard
Executive director
National Commission on Libraries and Information Science

National IT Guard

This comment provides another view on an April 16 item in The Circuit — "A Change in Command?"

The column infers that (a) critical information infrastructure defense blurs the traditional definition of national security and (b) responsibility for that defense is difficult to determine. Neither is true. The issue lies behind the smokescreen that too often IT items and systems are treated differently than other tools and systems.

Responsibility for national security is clearly divided. The regular military services are responsible for overseas defense; the National Guard for the homeland defense.

The National Guard already has the implicit mission of maintaining its weave within the fabric of the civilian community. The Guard has been the proponent for the national infrastructure defense, and the IT infrastructure is a portion of the overall infrastructure.

Logically, therefore, critical IT infrastructure defense already is a part of the National Guard's homeland defense mission. Recognition of this should be accompanied by the leadership support, resource allocations and continued support for partnerships required to ensure mission success.

Name withheld upon request

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