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Accessibility grants. Congress wants to make sure state governments use Education Department grants to maintain and increase access to accessibility programs and technology instead of for administrative needs.

The Assistive Technology Act of 2004, recently signed by President Bush, calls for Education to increase its oversight of how states spend these grants. States would receive $20.8 million in grants from Education, and if Congress puts more funds in the Education appropriations bill, 50 percent of any additional funding would be divided evenly among the states and 50 percent by population.

States will have to submit detailed descriptions of how they will use the funding, including measurable goals for assistive technology in employment, telecommunications or IT, and community living.

The law also outlines detailed criteria for Education to include in its annual report to Congress to determine the program's effectiveness.

Arizona VPN. Officials at the Arizona Game and Fish Agency said they have increased the agency's productivity a thousandfold with a virtual private network accessible by remote users.

The agency has about 120 employees who file reports from across the state, said Douglas Hart, network administrator for the agency.

The agency had been using a remote-access server, which employees in the field would dial into using a long-distance number. But it was slow, insecure and expensive, Hart said.

The agency installed a NetScreen Secure Access 5000 appliance from Juniper Networks Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. The device lets employees access network applications and e-mail via the NetScreen Secure Access 5000 SSL virtual private network from any PC with an Internet connection.

Users save hours by not having to drive to the office to get connected. Plus, they can work faster, thanks to speedier connections.

E-mail uptime. Virginia's Health Department has increased the uptime of its e-mail system to the point that it now relies on the service even during natural disasters.

The department uses Sun Java System Communications and Collaboration software running on two Sun Fire V480 servers under Solaris 9. The data resides on two Sun StorEdge 3510 FC arrays, clustered with Sun Cluster 3.1 software, all from Sun Microsystems Inc.

The architecture can support 200,000 daily messages. Remote employees use Sun Java System Messaging Server through a Netscape browser.

The department kept the system running when Hurricane Isabel struck Richmond last year.

The department has 4,000 e-mail users. For virus protection, it uses Symantec Antivirus for SMTP Gateways software from Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif.

Although viruses 'are always knocking on the door,' the new e-mail system had only one episode of downtime two years ago, for about a day and a half, IT specialist Sue Rhodes said.

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