Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor



Do CIOs have the juice? It all depends

I just got done reading your recent editorial, 'No need for IT czar,' regarding the establishment of a federal information technology czar [GCN, May 15, Page 18].

I couldn't agree more. This would just be another position that would not fit into the way government really works. I also thought the insight that the power of the chief information officer is relative to the backing he or she receives from the cabinet officer was right on target.

I think it would be interesting to poll both the chief financial officers and the CIOs and see how many times they meet with their cabinet officers, other than at the annual management kickoff. The ones who meet on a regular basis, I would bet, are not interested in an IT czar.

Stephen R. Colgate

Assistant attorney general for administration and CIO

Justice Department

Washington

508 won't require yanking Web sites

Walter Houser's recent column on access to federal Web sites, 'Section 508 spells trouble for some federal sites' [GCN, May 22, Page 24], spreads some common misconceptions about new requirements for access to federal electronic and information technology that need to be clarified.

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act and strengthened provisions covering access to information in the federal sector. The law applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain or use such technology. Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and the public to the extent it does not pose an undue burden.

Section 508 uses the procurement process to ensure access and directs the Access Board to develop standards for this technology that will become federal procurement regulations.

The law also set up an administrative complaint process that takes effect Aug. 7, although recent action on Capitol Hill to amend the law may postpone that date.

The process would enable any individual with a disability to file a complaint alleging that a federal agency has not complied with the standards. It provides injunctive relief and attorneys' fees to the prevailing party but does not include compensatory or punitive damages. Individuals may also file civil actions against agencies.

These enforcement provisions apply, however, only to IT procured on or after Aug. 7, or whatever date Congress eventually sets. As a result, Section 508 does not authorize complaints or lawsuits to retrofit technology procured before that date, even though other parts of the law address technology developed, used or maintained by a federal agency.

I anticipate that the thrust of the requirements in the Access Board's final standards will be pertinent to Web sites and pages developed after the effective date. As proposed by the board, the standards do not prohibit the use of Web site graphics or animation. Instead, the standards aim to ensure that such information is also available in a format accessible to people with vision impairments.

Generally, this means use of text labels or descriptors for graphics and certain format elements.

Accessible sites offer significant advantages that go beyond access. Those with text-only options provide a faster downloading alternative and can facilitate transmission of Web data to cell phones and personal digital assistants.

Compliance with Section 508 will require time, effort and money. But in no way does the Access Board foresee any agency having to pull the plug on its Web site as a more feasible alternative.

Lawrence W. Roffee

Executive director

Access Board

Washington

GCN welcomes letters to the editor. Letters should be typed double-spaced and must include name, address, telephone number and signature of the author. Send to: Letters to the Editor, Government Computer News, Suite 300, 8601 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, Md. 20910.

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