State's globe-trotting employees will get wired, IT chieftain vows

But State’s recently arrived chief information officer said he plans to turn the
situation around by making the department’s primary responsibility, diplomacy, the
heart of its new information technology plan.


CIO Fernando Burbano said the agency is gearing up for the 21st century and shedding
its fuddy-duddy ways. A new long-term IT plan, systems staff organization changes and a
renewed focus on management issues will help the department sweep aside its reputation as
a second-tier systems operation, he said.


“We’ve done a lot in a short period,” he said. State recently finished a
five-year plan, Diplomacy for the 21st Century: Building the New Information Organization,
that sets overarching goals for deploying state-of-the-art computer and communications
systems departmentwide.


State will use the plan to hone a tactical vision, which will be a more specific plan
of what the department will do over each of the next five years, said Donald Hunter,
acting deputy CIO for architecture, planning and regulations.


The department efforts under Burbano, who began his job last summer, have received some
positive initial feedback.


The General Accounting Office, in a recent report on management challenges and program
risks throughout government, said State is making progress and specifically lauded the
appointment of a CIO with broad IT responsibility.


The creation of a powerful CIO office and others are “clearly steps in the right
direction,” GAO concluded.


Even so, there is much work to be done.


The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, recently
warned that U.S. diplomacy could become irrelevant if State fails to carry out changes in
its existing organization and communications technology.


CSIS, in an October report, Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age, said U.S.
diplomacy is in dire risk because the department’s staff members do not have the
modern technology they need to do their jobs.


The department has failed to follow the lead of the Defense Department and other
federal agencies in responding to the challenge of the information age, the CSIS report
said.


“The conduct of American diplomacy,” CSIS said, “faces unacceptable
performance gaps between outdated practices and the requirements of the new age of
information. … American diplomacy must be empowered with the tools and techniques of
the 21st century.”


And although GAO praised the changes made so far at State, its January report said the
department must maintain a focus on management issues if it is to succeed.


“More needs to be done to create a well-tuned platform for conducting foreign
affairs,” GAO said. “Achieving this goal will require the State Department to
make a strong commitment to management, improvement, modernization and cost-based
decision-making.”


Burbano said he has taken such criticisms to heart. The recommendations of groups such
as GAO and CSIS were part of the reason that undersecretary of State for management Bonnie
Cohen centralized the IT shop, elevated it to bureau status and made the CIO an assistant
secretary.


Cohen “has been a strong supporter,” Burbano said.


One goal under the IT plan is to create a secure and global network for State’s
far-flung users, Burbano said. The plan calls for the Diplomatic Telecommunications
Service’s Program Office to create a commercial satellite network using secure IP
technology, the report said.


State and the program office intend to use commercial satellite services and open
standards and protocols to ensure that capabilities remain current as technology and
industry trends evolve, Hunter said.


A key issue with using IP technologies is security, Burbano said. But the department
also plans to use a phalanx of systems security tools, such as encryption, digital
certificates, a public-key infrastructure and firewalls, he said.


“The IRM Bureau is working closely with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to
design and implement appropriate levels of network security,” the IT report said. The
department will continue to maintain a separate network for classified data, officials
said.


Another element of the IT plan is to provide the International Affairs Bureau with
ready access to applications and information, Burbano said. The plan represents a shift in
focus to substantive foreign policy applications and databases, he said.


The department will also implement a worldwide messaging system. State needs to blur
the distinction that has arisen among its users that e-mail is for informal correspondence
and cables are for official communications, the report said.


Over the next five years, the department’s entire messaging network will be
replaced by a document management and information exchange system, the IT plan said.


State officials also want to leverage IT to streamline administrative operations,
particularly at overseas posts where administrative and technical staffs are small and
scarce resources must go to diplomatic priorities.


Finally, but not least important, Burbano said, the department is working to attract
and maintain a trained systems work force.


One element of that is retaining existing staff through better pay. Burbano has been
working with the CIO Council on creating a separate pay scale for the government’s IT
workers.


Meanwhile, the department is seeking new recruits and trying new ways to attract
quality systems workers. For instance, State later this week will participate in a job
fair. And under the banner, “Go Global,” the department has been advertising for
IT workers who might be enticed by the challenge of overseas assignments.


“We have a lot to offer,” Burbano said.


The department’s long-term strategy assumes that State will not be waylaid by the
date code crisis come 2000. It is a significant assumption given that State’s year
2000 preparation efforts have received severe criticism from the administration and
Congress.


But Burbano said he expects no disasters, though he acknowledged that the department
will not make the Office of Management and Budget’s March 31 deadline for having all
its mission-critical systems ready.


Fifty-five of the department’s 59 mission-critical systems will make the deadline,
he said, but at least one will not be ready until August. The work on that system and the
completion date were set before OMB moved the readiness deadline to March from November,
he said.


“The bottom line is, we’re going to be done” by Jan. 1, he said. 



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