The Circuit

Still Unplugged

Believe it or not, some Interior Department offices still have no Internet access. In fact, about 6 percent of the department's systems remain disconnected from the Internet — eight months after a federal judge ordered a departmentwide shutdown due to security concerns, according to a recent Interior report.

The majority of the systems support the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of the Special Trustee, which rely on information technology to fulfill the department's trust fund duties. Both offices have assigned project managers to work on reconnecting them to the Internet.

Other positions that have been filled include Roger Mahach as the department's IT security officer, Brian Burns as BIA's chief information officer and Stewart Mitchell as the department's trust security officer.

"The relative security and integrity of the departmental computer systems [are] improving," Interior Secretary Gale Norton said in her 10th status report to the court, submitted Aug. 1 with little fanfare.

SRA International Inc. and the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Computer Security Expert Team reviewed the matter in separate assessments in January and April, respectively. The department is creating a database to centralize those findings and recommendations while it works with tribal leaders toward a mutual solution.

Interior has held American Indian-owned lands in trust for more than 100 years, leasing the properties and processing revenue earned from farming and drilling. A group of beneficiaries filed a class-action lawsuit in 1996, claiming that poor bookkeeping has prevented landowners and their descendants from determining their account balances. The plaintiffs estimate as much as $10 billion in lost or missing funds.

A decision on the case is pending.

Smart Borders

Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, was in Canada last week for a meeting with John Manley, the country's deputy prime minister, to put the finishing touches on a "smart border" agreement. The plan, announced last December, is an effort to secure people and goods that pass between the two countries and to secure the infrastructure at the border to relieve congestion.

Technology plays a central role in the plan. For instance, officials from the two countries are talking about how to revise and deploy smart technologies, including common cargo screening and compatible security standards to identify dangerous cargo while speeding the flow of low-risk goods.

The next step is to bring the plan to President Bush and Prime Minister Jean Chretien for final approval.

Measuring Up

In Washington, D.C., there is always the pressure to prove that you are useful, and many agencies are struggling with defining their usefulness as the momentum for improving government performance grows.

The Office of Homeland Security is struggling with this. It lacks many easy or visible measures of success, and officials do not know how that will be received in the long run. The problem is one that information security officials discovered years ago: You cannot prove a negative.

Reaction and recovery are part of the office's mission, but the primary focus is prevention. This is hard to measure because although everyone knows when an attack is successful, there is no obvious way to tell whether an attack was prevented, Ken Piernick, senior director of the office's Intelligence and Detection Directorate, said Aug. 20 at a conference in Philadelphia.

"We don't know what we've prevented, but we certainly know where we've failed," he said.


After a year and a half with no permanent CIO, the Agriculture Department has designated Scott Charbo, a former agribusiness executive, as the new CIO at the USDA.

Charbo, who started in his new position Aug. 26, has served as the head of the Office of Business and Program Integration in the USDA's Farm Service Agency since July. He steps in for Ira Hobbs, the deputy CIO who had been the acting CIO.

As the CIO, Charbo will oversee more than 4,000 IT professionals and $1.7 billion in physical assets.

Before joining the USDA, Charbo held a variety of positions in the agriculture field. He previously was president of mPower3 Inc., a ConAgra Foods company that provides information and solutions to the agriculture and food production communities. The company has announced that it will cease operations Oct. 1.

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