Embassies to Test Worldwide Net

WASHINGTON (06/26/2000) - The U.S. Department of State is looking to its embassies in Mexico City and New Delhi, India, as test sites for a program aimed at putting U.S. diplomatic missions worldwide in touch with one another and with all other federal agencies that have an overseas presence.

The proposal is the recommendation of the department's Overseas Presence Advisory Panel, which was established more than a year ago following terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa.

Under the plan, the department would establish an interagency, interoperable infrastructure that would enable all agencies worldwide to exchange e-mail and other information, according to a senior State Department official.

Fernando Burbano, chief information officer at State, detailed the plan before the House International Relations Committee June 22.

Burbano told the committee that the leadership role the country has in international affairs "demands that we develop an integrated, responsive and secure IT capability, including systems and tools that enable us to access, manipulate and share up-to-date information and to collaborate with others in addressing foreign policy issues."

A November 1999 panel report on overseas locations concluded that U.S. embassies and missions are equipped with "antiquated, grossly inefficient, and incompatible information technology systems."

Few employees have Internet access, the panel found, nor is there an Internet or e-mail-based network to link agencies and posts. Many department employees find the fastest way to communicate with colleagues elsewhere overseas or in Washington, D.C., is to use their home computers and personal Internet accounts, the report stated.

Burbano told the House committee that State was developing plans to beef up communications between and among its overseas locations even before the panel's report was released in November 1999.

Many of the panel's recommendations are included in a 1998 State Department report, "Diplomacy for the 21st Century," Burbano said.

That report detailed five goals to be achieved by 2005.

* A secure global network and infrastructure.

* Ready access to internal affairs applications and information.

* Integrated messaging.

* Leveraging IT to streamline operations.

* Sustaining a trained productive work force.

Under the proposal that Burbano pitched to the House committee, the pilot programs would be up and running by the end of next year.

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