Letters to the editor
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
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
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.
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