The Circuit

Working Without a Net

Industry is making a valiant effort to convince feds about the need to back up their critical communications systems.

The Information Technology Association of America sent letters last week to congressional leaders asking them to revive legislation that would require the creation of redundant and physically separate communications systems for key federal agencies.

Sept. 11 "demonstrated quite graphically" that having no separate backup system is as bad as having no backup at all, according to ITAA President Harris Miller.

Congress failed to pass legislation requiring backup systems that was proposed last winter by Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). The Senate passed it, but the House did not.

The ITAA letters asking Congress to pass such legislation before adjourning this year were sent to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Subcommittee.

Architectures Make Good Neighbors

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers and the Office of Management and Budget have begun examining how the two levels of government can align their approaches to enterprise architectures, with a goal of easier collaboration and data sharing.

As the demand for better information sharing across federal, state and local government boundaries increases, the need for some compatibility among architectures is apparent, so NASCIO and OMB officials are discussing how to bring elements of the state and federal approaches into line, said Gerry Wethington, CIO of Missouri and chairman of NASCIO's Enterprise Architecture Committee.

Various other federal agencies also have expressed interest in working with NASCIO on some of the architectural items, Wethington said. "This isn't just from a homeland security perspective.... There's a recognition it's needed also for more effective electronic government and other things."

Talking the Talk

Municipalities nationwide have many non-English speaking residents, which can make for interesting and even testy situations when local law enforcement officials attempt to communicate with them. Even a routine traffic stop can become more frustrating than normal for both parties when basic commands such as, "License and registration, please" are not understood and obeyed.

With that in mind, the Justice Department's research and development branch is testing speech and language technologies to help state and local law enforcement officers with their daily duties, according to Steven Schuetz, a physical scientist in the Office of Science and Technology at the National Institute of Justice.

Schuetz, speaking last week during a speech and voice technology conference in Washington, D.C., said two language translation tools are currently being field-tested: a speaker-dependent, pocket-sized translator that includes 250 phrases in four languages, and speaker-independent software that can be used for voice recognition and analysis in simulations and gaming scenarios.

Bandwidth Needed

Many American workers would gladly take a smaller paycheck to work at home, telecommuting to the office and avoiding traffic jams that turn the workday into a headache, according to a new survey.

But for that to happen, the federal government must expand broadband availability to deliver faster and better Internet services, according to the National E-Work Survey, conducted by the Positively Broadband Campaign, which is committed to encouraging broadband use for the public and private sectors.

"A significant amount of Americans see clear value in telecommuting if given the option," according to the survey. "They see it as improving their lives, improving the quality of their work, and a significant amount of people are willing to take less salary in order to have the option to telecommute."

So exactly where is the federal government when it comes to encouraging telecommuting? Not too far along, according to its own statistics.

At the end of last year, 4.2 percent of all federal employees — about 70,000 workers — worked at least one day a week from home or at a federally sponsored telecenter. That is nearly double the number that worked from home the year before, according to Stan Kaczmarczyk, director of the General Services Administration's Innovative Workplaces Division.

But policies vary from agency to agency. Some offices pay for a second telephone line. Others do not, according to Kaczmarczyk. Some provide laptops and other equipment, and some do not.

"Congress would like to see more federal workers telecommuting," Kaczmarczyk said.

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