The Circuit

Paying Up

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the Veterans Cemetery Administration (VCA) reached a settlement last month on back pay for 16 computer specialists working in Washington, D.C.

The settlement, according to AFGE, involves $75,030.31 in back pay covering the period from Oct. 25, 1991, to Feb. 25, 2001. It was on the latter date that the VCA, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, changed the Fair Labor Standard Act status of computer specialists from exempt to nonexempt. AFGE anticipates an arbitration in the future to decide whether all VA employees are entitled to more back pay.

"Whether it's 10 months or 10 years, 16 computer specialists or 16,000 nurses, AFGE will continue to be relentless in its efforts to bring greater justice to federal workers," said AFGE National President Bobby Harnage in a statement.

Broken in Two

The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill last week that would split the Immigration and Naturalization Service in two, but the bill does not give the agency guidance — or funding — for overhauling information systems that keep data on visiting tourists, business people and students.

During a committee hearing April 10, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who represents the tech-heavy Silicon Valley, lamented the absence of attention to INS technology troubles. But the committee chairman, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), urged members to forge ahead, declaring, "The time to act is now." Sensenbrenner is chief sponsor of the reform legislation.

INS Commissioner James Ziglar, the star witness at the hearing, acknowledged that the immigration agency has a troubled history with information technology. Last month, INS delivered notices of the approval for changes in visa status for two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Ziglar said INS was "moving as quickly as we can to bring ourselves into the 20th century technology-wise" to avoid such mistakes in the future.

Lack of modern systems is compounded by the agency's inability to attract talented technology managers, Ziglar said. He said he was searching for a chief information officer, but had been unable to attract satisfactory candidates because of low pay.

Ziglar said he would like the flexibility to hire a CIO from the private sector rather than have to promote a civil servant and that "it would also be nice to have some incentives" with which to entice a highly qualified technology expert to become the agency's CIO.

Mapping Responses

Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer and several high-profile geographic information system (GIS) experts called for a national mapping initiative that would help federal, state and local governments deal with homeland security issues.

"GIS is in the same league as we develop e-mail, as we develop the Internet," he told attendees April 8 at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers' midyear conference in Denver.

Geringer said that after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the New York City GIS office processed 2,600 requests for information from 75 agencies, the media and the federal government, and that GIS applications helped response and recovery teams. For example, thermal maps showed fires below the World Trade Center, the stability of the remaining buildings and rubble, and utility outages. n

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