NRC CIO looks to modernize agency

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chief Information Officer Darren Ash said his agency will focus on modernizing outdated systems in the next two fiscal years.

The agency is modernizing videoconferencing systems and working to improve broadband access at remote sites, Ash said. At some facilities, Web connections dipped to almost dial-up speeds, he said. He found this out firsthand when he visited a plant and it took almost 15 minutes to log into his e-mail account.

“If it takes you 15 minutes to do e-mail, where if I’m back at headquarters and it only takes a minute, that’s 14 minutes that you could be using to do what you should be doing,” Ash said, speaking at a Mountaintop Peak Performance Breakfast in Bethesda, Md., this morning. The talk was Ash’s first public speaking appearance since joining NRC 10 months ago.

He said NRC is in the midst of a nuclear-power renaissance, securing ever increasing yearly budgets to handle the increase in interest by companies to build new nuclear power plants. The agency has hired Housing and Urban Development Department CIO Patrick Howard to head up its new Computer Security Office as chief information security officer.

While NRC works to improve broadband and update videoconferencing, most other modernization projects are set to be included in the agency’s fiscal year 2010 budget request.

Some efforts will include applications modernization, contracting out information technology security management, possibly migrating to Microsoft Windows Vista and seat management. NRC spent more than $28 million on seat management in fiscal 2007, one of its largest contracts.

Another major program that Ash wants to re-engineer is the Agencywide Document Access and Management System (ADAMS), which provides full public access to all NRC documents made public since 1999.

He said that he wants to do all the planning for ADAMS before a single line of code is written so as to avoid the types of problems programmers ran into almost a decade ago during ADAMS’ launch.

“What was painful about ADAMS was its implementation,” Ash said. “There were a lot of things we just didn’t do right in terms of addressing requirements, in terms of communicating, in terms of training. When you implement a system, this is not the way.”

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