Letters to the editor

Interior's Shutdown Mocks E-gov Efforts

Hello? Seventy thousand employees are doing payroll by hand and the public is cut off from the Old Faithful Webcam because the Interior Department's information resources management folks can't effectively isolate a database ["Searching for accountability," FCW, Jan. 21, and "Interior unplugged," FCW, Jan. 7]? At the risk of oversimplifying, this ain't rocket science! If the partial failure of a single "component system" leads to the scrubbing of an entire department's e-government infrastructure, we'll never see the successful launch of an integrated "e-future."

Even NASA shuttle flights orbit with more tolerance for "oops" than Interior chief information officer Daryl White's crew.

Fifty days (and counting) is a long time to have business-critical information systems and data down. How clueless do all federal information systems folks look as the media moves this story toward Page 1?

Here's hoping Interior pulls the strings between the cans tighter — soon.

Woody Hesselbarth
Fort Collins Interagency Dispatch Center

Knowledge Management Basics

In response to "Cultural change trumps technology" [FCW, Jan. 7], I would like to offer the following comments:

1. John Cabral, State Department deputy chief knowledge officer, and Bao Nguyen, chief of the Air Force's information and knowledge management division, have it right that knowledge management is a business process in itself. When federal executives really want to implement some form of knowledge management in their organizations, they better understand that fact — and forget about most of the rest of the article.

2. For those of us actually working with organizations desiring cultural change through process change, some of the things mentioned in this article are simply ludicrous. For example, a chief knowledge officer will be so far removed from the actual performance of important work that having a CKO will do nothing more than create a bureaucracy. Rather, organizations would do well to emulate the U.S. Geological Survey, which created a chief geographic officer position that relates to the work being performed. Furthermore, communities of practice are generally so ill defined and ill placed that they are not much better than a CKO. Too many of the communities that I have seen are composed of managers who want a reason to meet even though they are not involved in daily work. Interest is great, but the time could be better spent on process review teams composed of employees with critical skills who want to document and extend their work for the future.

3. Nguyen hits the nail on the head when he speaks of a champion for knowledge management. That champion has to balance a lot of agency and vendor interests in favor of the "learning organization" but also has to get people to understand why that learning organization is important. I would tell agencies to look inward and determine which activities are so critical to present and future operations that the understanding of these operations must be preserved for the future.

Knowledge management must be an integrated approach that looks at people, resources and strategic plans to decide what is important now and what might be important in the future. Unfortunately, that will not happen by getting generals, admirals and political appointees involved, unless they are talking to those who actively do the work for customers.

John Tieso
Tieso & Associates

Grasping the GovNet Concept

I have read many articles on your Web site relating to the U.S. government's request for a separate network for a number of federal agencies.

I attended the initial meeting in Washington, D.C., with regard to the request for information from the General Services Administration. However, a number of those attending simply could not get the concept. The request sought information on the provision of services to three agencies initially, connecting a number of locations.

I was amazed that people who are no doubt senior managers at a number of large companies simply could not understand that a "net" can be created independent of the Internet. We have been working on a concept to provide a new "net" for business and government only, addressing the very concerns that Richard Clarke, President Bush's cyberspace security adviser, alluded to.

As Clarke so eloquently said at the meeting, "Open your minds." The technology exists, and skilled individuals could make it a possibility. Instead of looking at the government as a "cash cow" to bail companies out of dire financial straits, the technology sector, as well as academia, should concentrate on helping the government with this project.

Alan Girvan
World Business Web Inc.

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