May 11, 2001, 2:48 PM — The U.S. Department of State is seeking $273 million for a major IT upgrade to replace legacy systems, improve bandwidth and security, and give 30,000 desktops access to the Internet.
"It's a huge shot in the arm," said department CIO Fernando Burbano. The person leading the charge for the system improvements is Secretary of State Colin Powell, who recently testified in Congress about the need for the upgrade.
The State Department project may be the biggest IT request so far from the Bush administration to Congress. But the agency is also involved in a smaller project that may illustrate the administration's future direction regarding information sharing.
The 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania exposed weaknesses in the State Department's ability to quickly share information with other agencies with which it's involved, according to a study released after the bombing. Since then, 40 agencies have developed a pilot program that creates centralized systems for sharing information at overseas posts.
"Information superiority in international affairs is critical," said Burbano, and the goal of IT is "getting people the right information at the right time, regardless of where they are located." The price tag on the pilot program is about $17 million, but the full program could cost more than $200 million.
Although this project began under the Clinton administration, the Bush administration has demonstrated its eagerness to make cross-agency information access a high priority. The White House is seeking $100 million from Congress in next year's budget for interagency initiatives.
If Congress approves the funding, the cross-agency effort will focus on projects that are "innovative" and "demonstrate a good business case," an administration official said.
The Bush administration has set three main goals for IT: to be "citizen-centric," results-oriented and market-based. That means expanding initiatives like electronic procurement, the official said.
Efforts along those lines are already under way.
At the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Gary Krump, a deputy assistant secretary with responsibility for electronic government programs, said his organization is working toward seamless government-to-business transactions.
Speaking at last week's FOSE IT trade show here, Krump said that paper-based systems remain in use in his agency but that his department is developing technology to receive bids electronically and securely, as well as to process payments.
"We're working to maximize the effective use of e-government to improve our business practices," he said.