GAO walks its own talk

GAO walks its own talk

CIO Tony Cicco says GAO is applying the same criteria to its IT upgrade that its auditors do when evaluating other agencies' systems overhauls.

SRA systems engineers Kelli Kauinui, left front, Stephanie Brown and Steven Nichols help keep GAO's LAN operations center running smoothly.

Congress' watchdog applies audit edicts to network upgrade

When it came to upgrading its systems infrastructure, the General Accounting Office decided it needed to eat its own dog food.

As Congress' junkyard dog, GAO has the job of pointing out embarrassing errors in other agencies' systems and programs.

Sometimes, it has been more lenient with itself, acknowledged GAO chief information officer Tony Cicco.

'GAO audits other agencies on a wide range of functions and technology,' Cicco said. 'We're applying the same criteria. We try to live by the same model that we ask other agencies to live by.'

The agency is almost finished with a five-year, $52 million revamp of its systems. It has turned over infrastructure operations to SRA International Inc. of Fairfax, Va.

Cicco said the goal of the project is an enterprise network that can provide users around-the-clock access to 40 applications. He wants auditors to file reports from afar with mobile phones and portable computers, and managers to assign and reassign duties within an employee database.

Uniformed SRA personnel answer the help desk phones, visit terminals to install applications, fix glitches and work on building the mobile network hosted in a new data center.

'A lot of this is ongoing operational support. We run all their help desk operations and network engineering,' said Hal Boylan, SRA vice president and deputy director of civilian government systems.

Boylan hired subcontractors to provide hardware support as well as an entire security staff for GAO.

'We're helping them modernize 40 applications,' he said. The enterprisewide architecture now under development will connect all the applications.

Cicco also wants to consolidate the Compaq Computer Corp. servers that support GAO's 12 offices nationwide. 'It's more organized; there's a single point of accountability,' he said.

SRA developed two new applications for GAO: Eagle and the Knowledge and Skills Inventory System (KSIS).

Eagle maps out job processes from audits to reports. It produces a flow diagram to show all the details of an investigation.

KSIS is GAO's first intranet-accessible database. The application went online a year ago.
KSIS details the auditing staff's skills and responsibilities.

'We go through cyclical upgrades. In this instance, SRA came on at the beginning of a new upgrade,' Cicco said. 'We've moved the contract staff onto the floors so they become part of the user community.'

GAO contracted for the services under the Federal Systems Integration and Management Center 9600 program. SRA's work includes network application development and engineering, security and software development.

Upgrade going on

When SRA won the contract, GAO was upgrading its desktop PC and network operating systems and installing new computers.

'There was a lot of instability, and our customer base was dissatisfied,' Cicco said. 'The stability of the network is like a 200 percent improvement.'

GAO now is in the midst of another desktop PC change from Microsoft Windows 95 to Windows 2000 and from Microsoft Office 97 to Office 2000.

About 3,500 GAO auditors will receive 850-MHz Compaq Evo notebook PCs this November to carry around instead of briefcases full of paper.

In the next two years, Cicco said, GAO will make the transition to Web apps. 'Right now, we're doing pilot tests with personal digital assistants and cell phones,' he said.

The higher degree of mobility and 24-hour network availability will improve customer service, Cicco predicted.

'We could spend a lot of money on technology, but if users aren't happy, it doesn't matter,' he said.

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