Edward Meagher | One network on the horizon

Another View'commentary

Edward Meagher

THERE ARE SOME hopeful signs that the federal information technology community might be ready to join the 21st century soon.

Some of those signs can be found in the recent progress of the Information Technology Infrastructure Line of Business (ITILOB) and the initial orders of the Networx telecommunications contract.

Despite the huge costs and inefficiencies, we still cling to the notion that each department and agency is so unique and special that we each have to create and maintain our own infrastructure to support our mission area.

I am convinced that a day will come when the billions of dollars we spend each year on each department's stovepiped IT infrastructure will not only be viewed as incredibly wasteful but also incredibly stupid. It will be seen as the equivalent of having allowed each department to drill its own water wells, generate its own electricity and treat its own sewage.

The notion of a true 'GovNet' has been around for many years, but I believe the time is fast approaching when we will agree on the terms and conditions and get about the business of designing, building, converting to, operating and managing a secure, unclassified IP network that will deliver all IP services to federal civilian agencies. Although this may be seen as a huge endeavor, the forces driving us to it are even greater and more compelling than the difficulties we will encounter.

The ITILOB, for starters, has begun collecting hard data about the costs of each department and agency providing PCs and desktop support, and it will soon begin the same process for data centers and network services. This should provide the first normalized and rationalized set of data about these expenditures in the federal government.

And it will allow us to compare ourselves to one another and the private sector in terms of spending and relative investment returns.

This information will provide a long-overdue picture that will clarify why our consolidation efforts are justified. And it will also likely add evidence to the growing perception that huge amounts of money are being spent with minimal returns on investment for our individual cybersecurity efforts.

This new cost and efficiency information should be available just as the first networks acquired under the Networx contract are being awarded. If the early participants are successful, we should see the acquisition of IP services based on detailed service-level agreements rather than a circuit-by-circuit replacement of existing networks.

This conversion, from multiple circuit- based, homegrown departmental networks to a single, secure, reliable IP-based GovNet is inevitable if we are to begin to treat our IT infrastructure as the critical national resource that it has become. GovNet will allow us to focus both our financial and technical resources on addressing the multiple threats we face ' and realize substantial productivity gains available by using a state-of-the-art, quality- of-service, service-level based IP network.

This conversion is too important to our national interest to allow 20th-century, parochial thinking and past failures in delivery mechanisms to prevent us from accomplishing this important goal.

Congress, the administration, the federal bureaucracies and the vendor community must come together to tackle the impediments and move rapidly to create a well-managed, 21st-century equivalent of the Eisenhower-era National Highway System.

Edward Meagher is deputy chief information officer at the Interior Department. Contact him at edward_meagher@ios.doi.gov.

About the Author

Meagher is deputy chief information officer at the Interior Department, past president of the Association for Federal Information Resources Management and an Air Force Vietnam veteran.

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