Feds give 50 surplus computers to kids

The Bureau of Economic Analysis had to untangle some red tape to donate 50 computers to
a Washington elementary school.

BEA officials, motivated by an April 1996 executive order that urged agencies to donate
surplus computers to schools and nonprofit organizations, first had to figure out the
Commerce Department’s policies on donating used computers.

BEA officials also hoped to have some say in who got the surplus systems.

“We wanted to work with a school that really needed PCs,” BEA chief
information officer Alan C. Lorish Jr. said. “Washington Public Schools’
Management Information Systems Department has a small staff in proportion to the number of
schools and students it serves. We wanted to help them out.”

BEA began working on a PC donation project for Washington schools in October.

Lorish said it wasn’t difficult to find BEA volunteers or a school that wanted the
PCs. The tough part was making sure that BEA met its parent department’s procedures
for donating the equipment, he said.

BEA began its project before Commerce had a policy in place on Executive Order 12999,
which established PC donations as a governmentwide priority, Lorish said.

Before donating PCs and other computer equipment, agencies must find out what’s
stored on the hard drives and permanently remove classified, sensitive or proprietary

“We thought it would be easy to donate the PCs, but it took some work,” he

Care was taken to remove any sensitive government information, said Mike Lombard, chief
of BEA’s Computer Support and Security Branch.

“We reformatted the c: drives and reloaded Microsoft Windows 95 to ensure the
machines were cleansed,” Lombard said.

Donating also requires a lot of paperwork, BEA officials said. For instance, the agency
had to record each PC’s serial number and other technical details before Commerce
higher-ups would approve the donation.

Lorish said deputy Commerce CIO Alan Balutis and BEA director Steve Landefield helped
push the project through. Making a donation now would likely be easier, Lorish said,
because Commerce has a donation policy that conforms with the executive order.

But getting approval for the donation wasn’t the end of BEA’s good deed. The
agency also assembled a volunteer team to help install the computers at Turner Elementary
in southeast Washington. On a Saturday early this month, two dozen or so BEA officials and
Turner teachers met at the school to set up the PCs on a LAN.

The 486DX2 PCs from Win Laboratories Ltd. of Manassas, Va., have 16M of RAM, 540M hard
drives and Win95. Since October, when BEA upgraded to 166-MHz WinLab 120 Pentium PCs, the
486es had been collecting dust in storage, Lorish said.

Turner school principal Marcia Parker, Vince Cotter of Washington Public Schools’
MIS department and Brian Callahan, BEA’s program manager for IT operations, also
helped iron out the plans for the donation and installation, Lorish said.

The former BEA computers now grace 30 classrooms. A T1 line will connect the
school’s computers to the Internet, and students will use Microsoft Internet Explorer
3.0 as the Web browser, Lorish said. 


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