Interview: State IT moves to front office

Interview: State IT moves to front office

Fernando Burbano

Fernando Burbano was sworn in as the State Department's chief information officer on May 11, 1998.

As head of State's IRM Bureau, he is the equivalent of an assistant secretary and reports directly to the secretary and the undersecretary for management. He oversees an information technology budget of more than $500 million and the activities of more than 2,000 employees.

From 1993 to May 1998 Burbano worked at the National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine, as its director of computer and communications and as director of information systems. He directed the office of information resources management for the Peace Corps from 1990 to 1993. He also has spent stints in industry IT jobs.

Burbano recently spoke with GCN about focusing on projects that further the department's day-to-day mission.

Who's In Charge

Fernando Burbano

Chief Information Officer and Assistant Secretary, IRM

Patricia Popovich

Deputy CIO, Management

Robert Surprise

Deputy CIO, Operations

Dan Campbell

Deputy CIO, Customer Service and Chief Knowledge Officer

Roy Standing

Deputy CIO, Architecture

Joe Chaddic

Senior Director, Foreign Affairs Systems Integration


(In millions, fourth quarter fiscal 1998 through third quarter fiscal 1999)

AT&T Corp. . . .$21.8
Orkand Corp. . . . .$11.6
MCI WorldCom Inc. . . .$10.4
BTG Inc. .$9.5
WorldCom Federal Systems .$5.2
IBM Corp. . . . .$5.2
Logicon Inc. . . .$5.0
Computer Sciences Corp. . . .$4.4
Esatel Communications Inc.$4.1
Mantech International Corp. . .$3.8
TOTAL. . . .$81.0

Sources for this GCN Snapshot
include the State Department and Input of Vienna, Va.

BURBANO: Until recently'after Y2K to be honest with you'the focus over the last two years has required the State Department to enforce moratoriums because people didn't want to work on maintenance and legacy systems.

But now we are starting to look at another theme. Most agencies had paid attention only to administrative applications, standard personnel, payroll and finance'all back-office stuff. But the core mission of the department is international affairs. So we wanted to start developing applications for our core mission, for the diplomats, public diplomacy and foreign affairs specialists, economic officers, all those people who are in diplomacy and international affairs.

We want to make these applications Web-based. We want to do knowledge management, data mining and data warehousing.

We will lower the intensity on the administrative applications, but we don't want to neglect them because we aren't going to say that they are in the greatest shape. A lot of them aren't Web-based; many don't use relational databases. So we aren't going to completely forget about them, but we are going to put more resources toward the core mission.

There were two reports done on the department about foreign affairs and diplomacy that talk about information technology. They said that State, not having enough funds, ought to look at doing things better to reduce cost, take advantage of fewer personnel and consolidate some of our networks. The reports said that our truly unclassified Internet network, which is separate, could be combined with our sensitive but unclassified network.

One, not two

The State Department's InfoCenter Service Desk assists employees worldwide 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

That way we could reduce costs and would ultimately improve productivity because people wouldn't have two log-ons, two password systems and two e-mail systems. And then there is the problem of maintaining the infrastructure: the servers, the lines and all that other stuff. The unclassified data would remain separate from the classified.

Some of the problems we are having at State are applicable to any federal agency. You have the problem of information sharing vs. security. We have to have diplomatic officers and such collecting information overseas, and what's a better place than the Internet? The Internet gives you a presence in every country; it gives you Web sites.

And since we acquired the U.S. Information Agency in October, we also have worldwide information dissemination. We picked up the big responsibility for pumping out information.

On the security side, since all this stuff we're talking about is Internet, you have all these cyberattacks and viruses. So the technology of the Internet has good things, but it also poses risks. We have to worry about sensitive information.

We have done a lot in security. There is a lot of user frustration. People don't like to have to log on to multiple systems. But there is an increasing need for e-diplomacy.

We are going to schedule an evaluation by an independent contractor who will look at the vulnerabilities, solutions, costs, etc. If there are vulnerabilities, we will close them, and if our independent assessor says, 'This is too risky,' then we won't do it.

Major programs
Corporate Information Security Officer Program'Designed to improve systems security, the program began last April. Through it, State oversees the security programs at more than 340 department sites. The program staff certifies and accredits sites to ensure that they follow security policies. The program team also approves plans for State voice systems and the privileges for services through the department's main data hubs. Between 15 and 20 State employees work in the program office.

Enterprise Network Management Initiative'In this effort, State supports departmentwide intranet. The initiative team oversees the intranet's design and assures its round-the-clock operation. The team also runs a technical lab to test network changes. With a $12 million budget, the team also tracks State's IT resources, monitoring use of all hardware and software.

OpenNet Plus'State is studying the feasibility of using a single network for unclassified information over the Internet and its intranet. The department is studying a report on the OpenNet Plus project to determine whether the security risk is within acceptable parameters before it implements a pilot. State expects to decide this month whether to proceed with a two-year, $318,000 pilot.

Superserver Initiative'The department has worked for two years on upgrading the performance of its mainframe data centers. The goal is to distribute more services'security, consular systems, financial management, administrative payroll and personnel retirement management'to users via Web interfaces. The department also wants to do more data warehousing, remote backup, configuration management and disaster recovery. State expects to spend $25 million upgrading its core data services.

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