The Circuit

A No Show

The House Judiciary Committee wanted to quiz Attorney General John Ashcroft about recent changes he has decreed in investigative guidelines designed in the 1970s to rein in the FBI. Among other things, Ashcroft lifted restrictions on agents snooping through Web sites and mining commercial databases for signs of criminal activity.

In the hall outside the hearing room just before the June 27 session was to start, anxious spectators were milling about, civil rights activists were busy issuing statements and TV crews were setting up cameras. Then word arrived that the hearing had been canceled because Ashcroft had failed to provide the committee with advance copies of his testimony.

Had Ashcroft defied the Judiciary Committee? Were lawmakers preparing for a showdown? Nothing so dramatic, a committee staffer said. Someone at the Justice Department "screwed up" and Ashcroft aides were still writing the testimony at hearing time.

Homeland Construction

It's not too early to start planning for the Homeland Security Department.

The Bush administration has several projects in the works as it attempts to design the department's information technology infrastructure, officials said last month at the E-Gov 2002 conference. Both Federal Computer Week and E-Gov are owned by 101communications LLC.

Projects include several six- to nine-month "foundation" projects focused on architecture and a few 90-day pilot projects focused on specific technologies, said Jim Flyzik, senior adviser for IT at the Office of Homeland Security.

The pilot projects include consolidating information from multiple "watch lists" across government, creating a Web portal for the agencies that would be folded into the new department and expanding local law enforcement networks for state and local response and coordination, Flyzik said.

Meanwhile, the team heading those efforts is evaluating the best way to use or combine IT contracts already in place or under development at the agencies. Many experts favor expanding the current $1 billion procurement launched by the Transportation Security Administration to include a basic desktop infrastructure for the department.

There are many options, said Norman Lorentz, chief technology officer at the Office of Management and Budget, but combining several large contracts will not be easy. "It's like trying to paint a jetliner while it's in flight."

Measuring Up

The first meeting of the Performance Measurement Advisory Council, designed to measure the performance of agency programs, brought together a diverse group from think tanks, universities and consulting companies. Many have served in federal, state or local government.

Those with state and local experience had valuable insight into evaluating performance and integrating it into budget decisions. They also had certain expectations about how far along federal agencies' performance measures should be.

Other council members and OMB leaders were forced to explain that although federal agencies are supposed to have "good" goals and "good" metrics, most do not — a disappointing finding for the state and local experts.

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