Agency will sell bonds online -

About 55 million people own U.S. savings bonds. Another million have Treasury Direct
retail accounts for buying Treasury securities.


The Bureau of the Public Debt, which finances the nation's indebtedness from an
operating center in Parkersburg, W.Va., is upgrading its computer network to handle these
accounts electronically.


If all goes well, the bureau will begin selling savings bonds online late this year.
Customers eventually will have access to their Treasury Direct accounts via the World Wide
Web.


"It's a challenge," said Jim Benton, director of the Division of
Communications. The bureau has little choice but to meet that challenge.


From a high of 10,000 employees at the end of World War II, the bureau now has 1,700.


In the last five years alone, staffing has been cut by 300 jobs, and the reductions
will continue through at least 1999, according to the bureau's strategic five-year plan.


To keep functioning at reduced staff levels, the strategic plan calls for
all-electronic sales, payments, account information and internal administration.


Benton said the networking plan is to extend Fast Ethernet to 1,500 desktops, put
asynchronous transfer mode on the backbone and use switches to make smaller collision
domains.


The bureau is now in the early stages of upgrading its network. One of the first moves
was to award indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts to three companies for
$500,000 worth of training over the next five years.


The training will be essential to operate the new network's routers and switches from
Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.


"We're trying to position ourselves to take full advantage of technology,"
spokesman Pete Hollenbach said.


The bureau's intent is to borrow the money needed to keep the federal government
running and to account for the resulting debt, which on Aug. 21 amounted to $5.4 trillion.


Although the president and Congress have agreed to balance the budget by 2002, the job
of selling, redeeming and accounting for savings bonds, Treasury bills and Treasury notes
to fund day-to-day operating expenses won't go away anytime soon.


Each year, the bureau issues $2 trillion worth of marketable securities, issues and
redeems more than 100 million savings bonds, and maintains more than $380 billion in
securities accounts for investors.


Most of those operations take place in three buildings in Parkersburg.


Two other buildings in Washington house headquarters activities.


Dedicated T1 lines connect the five buildings, each having a Novell NetWare IPX Fast
Ethernet, although that architecture is changing.


"We're incrementally moving to IP as the clients change from Microsoft Windows 3.1
to Windows 95," Benton said.


Some switching is done with concentrators from Bay Networks Inc. of Santa Clara,
Calif., to make the collision domains smaller, Benton said. Cisco 7000 routers provide the
ATM backbone.


"We won't go to a full ATM network," Benton said. "We will implement ATM
between cable concentrators from floor to floor" and then from building to building
in Parkersburg. ATM links between Parkersburg and Washington will follow.


The big number-crunching takes place on an Amdahl Corp. Model 5990-1400 mainframe at
the West Virginia computer center. A separate network serves this Systems Network
Architecture traffic, but plans call for consolidating the mainframe and client-server
traffic onto a single network.


The current Fibre Channel and Escon channel mainframe interfaces will give way to
Channel Interface Processors on Cisco routers to connect the mainframe to the IP network.


Because high security is essential in selling government securities and placing
investors' accounts online, the bureau will move slowly toward doing all its business
electronically.


The network has firewall protection, and a Web server outside is protected by Cisco's
Private Internet Exchange software.


But the bureau still has to climb the steep side of the learning curve for running an
IP network.


"There's a lot you need to know about packet filter rules and allowing different
kinds of traffic over the building or over the wide area network," Benton said.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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