Administration plan calls for merging tech agencies

ROANOKE, Va.'Federal, state and industry officials today pronounced IT healthy, despite the dot-com collapse, economic tribulations and wartime.

Undersecretary of Commerce for technology Phillip J. Bond, speaking at the Commonwealth of Virginia IT Symposium 2003, said the Bush administration seeks "converged policy-making" to foster innovation and will "use the bully pulpit" to make it happen.

Bond said Commerce secretary Don Evans will propose legislation to combine agencies that deal with computers and telecommunications, much as agencies were rearranged last year to form the Homeland Security Department.

"States' rules and laws are restricting e-commerce and telemedicine, which could unleash tremendous growth in IT and telecom," he said. The president's current budget request calls for a record $123 billion for relevant R&D and $59 billion for e-government, Bond said.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who appeared remotely before the 900-member audience as a 3-D hologram courtesy of EDS Corp. and Teleportec of Dallas, said the state's eVA online procurement system recently passed the $1 billion mark, serving up 155,000 transactions for 400 million products from 13,500 vendors, of which 6,400 are small or minority businesses.

The eVA effort so far has saved state taxpayers about 2 percent on procurement costs, he said, citing a former mishmash of buying through 300 separate contracts.

More difficult, he said, is the "monster job" of reforming state IT as a whole. Virginia has 3,000 servers "with every e-mail system known to man," pays 94 agency CIOs to make separate decisions about IT, and has no common database formats among its school systems, Warner said.

He said he wants to see R&D commitments to state universities and cooperative organizations to exceed $1 billion by 2010, partly from Defense Department and DHS funds. Virginia will build statewide broadband access, he said, with the help of U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Rick Boucher. The Virginia Republican and Democrat are co-chairmen of the Congressional Internet Caucus.

But Verizon Inc. chief executive officer Ivan Seidenberg said telecom carriers are less sanguine about broadband. "The government gives us more incentives to invest in wireless than in fiber," he said. "We will not invest in a business that gives us only a 4 or 5 or 6 percent return on investment. We see a much speedier rollout on the wireless side."

Randolph Blazer, chairman and CEO of BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., said online data will grow by a factor of a million in this decade, fueled by 10 times as many users on 1,000 times as many connected devices.

But the number of systems implementations he called challenged has held steady at about half of all such efforts for the last decade. The number of systems implementations that succeed has doubled, to 34 percent, and the failures have halved, to 15 percent, Blazer said.

He defined a challenged system as one that hasn't hit its service-level agreement, isn't generating benefits, exceeds its budget, or is frustrating its users because of poor access, inaccuracy or outdated information.

Asked what he considers a good example of systems financing prowess, he cited DOD, whose milestone reviews "take the savings away from budgets because the department is willing to live with the savings it projected."


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