Bush seeks $270M for State Dept. IT modernization

Saying he never likes to be "out of touch for an instant," Secretary of State Colin Powell is asking Congress to approve US$270 million in new spending to continue an IT modernization program aimed at improving the State Department's communications and information-sharing capabilities.

A particular goal of the modernization effort is to upgrade the department's classified networks. Powell told the Senate Budget Committee yesterday that the money being requested for the next fiscal year, which starts in October, will be used to improve the agency's secure local area network, including its e-mail and word processing systems.

The planned improvements "will allow us open access channels to the Internet so that our people can take full advantage of this enormously important new means of communication and research," said Powell in written testimony that was submitted to the budget committee in advance of his appearance.

The State Department already has a technology modernization effort in progress. That began in the wake of a late 1998 report that outlined a new IT direction and said the agency's systems were characterized by decentralization and technologies that were proprietary, customized and obsolete. The report also called for more standardized and integrated business processes.

In his testimony, Powell said "great strides" were made in upgrading unclassified IT systems at the State Department under former secretary Madeleine K. Albright, who he replaced after President Bush took office. The agency has now begun work to create classified LAN capabilities, he added.

Powell also noted that electronic communications are important to him. "When I arrived in the Transition Office at State in December of last year, the first thing I put on the table behind my desk was my computer with access to my e-mail account," he said.

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the budget committee's chairman, said he supported Bush's overall budget request of about $8 billion for the State Department. "Technology and globalization offers up new challenges [and] new threats" that the agency needs to be able to address, Domenici said in a statement.

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