Agencies Losing Cyberspace Race

WASHINGTON (05/03/2000) - From the vantage point of Capitol Hill, members of Congress are watching the race to cyberspace, and they see the government trailing far behind the commercial sector, according to a panel of congressional staffers.

From computer security to research and development to technology management, federal agencies are stumbling, the panel told the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association on Tuesday.

Congress has tried to help by passing laws like the Clinger-Cohen Act, which made it easier for agencies to buy computer equipment, but it has not succeeded in getting agencies to "buy smarter," said Bill Greenwalt, an IT specialist on the Senate Armed Services Committee staff.

For example, in a recent examination of 105 Defense Department technology contracts, staffers uncovered 105 significant problems, Greenwalt said. In part, he blamed sharp cuts in DOD's acquisition work force, which has been compounded by an increase in the number of contracts to be administered.

In other cases, however, lackluster performance by government agencies can be traced to inadequate policy administration, said Amit Sachdev, counsel to the House Commerce Committee.

The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, has been plagued by computer security problems. The Commerce Committee found that security policies often were promulgated by senior agency officials but never carried out by computer system managers. No audits were conducted to ensure that policies were being implemented, and security breaches were never investigated, Sachdev said.

Much of the problem is "managerial," Greenwalt said, and Sachdev blamed a lack of involvement in information technology by agency chiefs and ineffective leadership by agency chief information officers.

A solution many in Congress favor is creating a federal IT czar. At least three bills have been introduced to establish such a position, said David McClure, an associate director of the General Accounting Office.

But the responsibilities and authority of a technology czar remain uncertain.

To be effective, the czar might need a degree of control over IT budgets and would certainly need to have support from the president and cooperation from agency chiefs, Greenwalt said.