Transportation sets high-tech road map

More public-works funding is on the way for the Transportation Department's federal and
state projects, and that means more money for information technology, according to the
acting director of the statistical bureau that analyzes U.S. transportation systems.


There will be a lot of incentive to spend more on systems as state transportation
departments lose staff and as highway building and repair costs remain stable, said Robert
A. Knisely, acting director of the department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics.


State departments need more throughput, he said.


Knisely spoke this month at a Pennsylvania conference attended by federal, state and
local transportation officials.


Congress created the bureau in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of
1991, and Knisely predicted Congress will double the funding in ISTEA's successor bill.


Knisely said he expects a six-year budget of around $200 billion with approval coming
as early as June.


He called it the biggest public-works bill on the horizon.


State governors are anxious about the appropriation because the summer season for
building and repairing highways starts soon and they have no funding yet, he said.


Knisely helped with the National Performance Review. He also previously worked as BTS'
deputy director, adding acting director to his title after T.R. Lakshmanan resigned in
February.


BTS at present has a six-year budget of $90 million and a staff of 30. It spends half
of its funds compiling and analyzing three large surveys of U.S. transportation systems,
which are distributed on paper, CD-ROM and the Internet, Knisely said.


"We didn't have to reinvent ourselves because we came into being right at the time
Vice President Gore was talking about reinventing government," he said.


BTS officials have posted 6,000 planning documents from the National Transportation
Library on the Web at http://www.bts.gov, mostly in Adobe
Portable Document Format, Knisely said. Over the next six years, the bureau will invest in
scanning and optical character recognition.


Libraries and document repositories prefer to post full text online, Knisely said, and
"if you don't have the full text, you're not serving the customer. It doesn't do any
good to give references and abstracts ... Interlibrary loan doesn't work," he said.


BTS officials represent DOT on the Federal Geographic Data Committee, which develops
statistical and data collection policies.


The bureau is working with other agencies to preserve data items for transportation
planners, for example, from information collected by the year 2000 Census. BTS also tracks
trends in data acquisition and information technology.


Knisely recalled an effort in the 1970s when 10 federal agencies worked with six local
governments to create an integrated municipal system that collected data everywhere,
stored it well and used it everywhere, he said.


After the move from mainframe computing to minicomputers in the early 1970s, however,
administrators lost the central control that had made the data collaboration possible.
Advances in information access, processor speed, storage and the Internet are regaining
some of the lost ground, he said.


Knisely uses an Apple Computer Inc. PowerBook 2400c notebook computer. "I try to
make sure that all the people who work for me have a laptop, because the good news is you
can work at home, and the bad news is you can work at home," Knisely said.


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