Virtually Speaking

After reading a recent Federal Computer Week story in which Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) called for the establishment of a virtual hearing room on Capitol Hill by next year, our State Department antenna picked up a signal that the Senate and House intelligence committees might have that resource at their disposal.

The State source said that the Secure Video Teleconferencing System is available for the committees to conduct secure teleconferences with intelligence agencies and with the Defense Department through similar connections.

However, it is unclear whether the system has ever been used, and with last week's launch of the joint hearings focusing on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, our phone calls seeking information were not returned.

DOD's BIC Plans

At least one DOD group has been busy lately. The Business Initiative Council (BIC) has approved additional initiatives designed to improve and streamline the Pentagon's business processes.

Adding to the 32 projects that have already received the green light, BIC recently threw its support behind the Common Access Card, the departmentwide smart card that will replace employee identification cards. BIC was established in June 2001 by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to improve the department's business operations and save money. Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, oversees the council. BIC initiatives are put on a fast track, receive high-level attention and have "champions" appointed to track their progress.

Another initiative would let DOD officials bypass congressional approval before ordering additional products and services for major procurements. In the annual budget process, Congress approves both a dollar value and a specific quantity for each major procurement.

"In cases where DOD is able, due to effective negotiation and contractor efficiencies, to buy greater quantities with no additional dollars, current policy requires that DOD request prior congressional approval," a BIC summary says.

Obtaining prior approval has always been a cumbersome process. The BIC initiative would enable DOD to purchase the increased quantities without prior approval, "provided, of course, that a valid requirement exists for the higher quantities."

Sensing the Target

The Army Research Laboratory is developing a network of unmanned ground sensors (UGS) that will help the transformed Objective Force accurately locate targets that might otherwise go undetected.

"UGS will allow the Objective Force to detect and locate targets where we currently cannot," said John Gowens II, chief of the laboratory's computer and communications division, during his presentation last month at the International Quality and Productivity Center's Network Centric Warfare 2002 conference.

Networked sensors for the Objective Force will complement global surveillance initiatives and "fill the battlefield situational awareness gaps" using various types of sensors, including seismic, magnetic, infrared and radio frequency, he said.

Drawing from all of those sensors through "sensor fusion" will enable a soldier to know, for instance, when five lights on a console go on at once, whether they refer to one target identified five different ways or five different targets.

The first demonstration of the networked sensors is planned for next February, and lab researchers hope to have the system ready for the field — including sensors outfitted on unmanned aerial vehicles and small, ground-based robots — one year later.

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