State starts work on global, multiagency network

State starts work on global, multiagency network


The State Department this summer will begin testing a backbone network that is expected to let more than 40 agencies with overseas offices communicate via the Internet.

The plan, born out of the 1998 embassy bombing in Nairobi, Kenya, calls for spending $17 million to create a prototype, State chief information officer Fernando Burbano said.

The objective is to create one network to streamline embassy and consulate management, as well as reduce costs and improve communications for the agencies with the largest numbers of employees abroad. These include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Justice, State, Transportation and Treasury, and the Agency for International Development, the CIA and Peace Corps.

Currently, these agencies, many of which have offices within embassy compounds, maintain separate systems that support 50,000 full- and part-time government employees.

'It's truly a big, international system. What we want is where all the agencies talk to a central management system that is secure.'
' State CIO Fernando Burbano

Burbano said State will use knowledge management applications and IP technology for the backbone, which it plans to make operational by April of next year.

Critical mission

'Information superiority in international affairs is critical,' said Burbano, who spoke last month about the global network at the FOSE 2001 trade show in Washington. In overseas posts, he said, there needs to be a coordinated effort in crisis intervention and policy and administrative support.

'Forty departments, one system,' Burbano said, as if reciting a mantra. 'Congress sees this as a governmentwide project, and they fund it.'

It all began with a report by the Overseas Presence Advisory Panel, which was set up three years ago by President Clinton and included CIOs and foreign affairs specialists from the agencies.

Working together

In December 1999, the panel issued its findings, which called for development of an interagency network for government users stationed at 260 posts in 170 countries. The panel said the network would create regional collaboration zones, allowing agencies to share Internet access, e-mail, a secure unclassified Web site and some other applications.

The panel also advised agencies with overseas offices to develop a common platform for secure classified information, said Burbano, who is chairman of the panel's Information Technology Subcommittee.

The cost for developing the network is estimated at $400 million. Lawmakers hope the project can be used as a model for a similar network for domestic agencies, Burbano said.

The panel estimated that the government would need to spend about $300 million on Internet technology and other commercial components to create a common unclassified network for all overseas agencies.

The cost for the classified system would run another $130 million, the panel estimated.

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