Foreign Affairs:

Effort to Upgrade Information Technology Overseas Faces Formidable Challenges

T-AIMD/NSIAD-00-214: Published: Jun 22, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Department of State's efforts to improve the foreign affairs community's information technology infrastructure, focusing on: (1) State's efforts to implement the Overseas Presence Advisory Panel's recommendations; and (2) the challenges and risks it will face as it proceeds.

GAO noted that: (1) the Overseas Presence Advisory Panel was formed to consider the future of the nation's overseas representation, to appraise its condition, and to develop practical recommendations on how best to organize and manage overseas posts; (2) the Panel recommended that all agencies with an overseas presence provide staff with a common network featuring Internet access, electronic mail, a secure unclassified Internet website, and shared applications permitting unclassified communications among all agencies and around the globe; (3) the Panel further recommended that agencies initiate planning for a similar common platform for classified information; (4) in developing its common platform initiative, State intends to: (a) define user and system requirements; (b) identify risks and assess technical feasibility; (c) identify the major work elements that will be accomplished over the life of the project; (d) analyze costs and benefits; (e) establish project goals, performance measures, and resources; (f) assign responsibilities; and (g) establish milestones; (5) the Panel estimated that the ultimate cost of a common solution for both classified and unclassified information will be over $300 million; (6) the President's fiscal year 2001 budget includes $17 million in support of the recommendation for a common information technology platform for overseas offices; (7) as State is in the early stages of project planning, it faces considerable challenges in modernizing overseas information technology systems; (8) State will need to obtain agreement among its various bureaus and the agencies in the foreign affairs community on such issues as requirements, resources, responsibilities, policies, and acquisition decisions; (9) this will be a delicate task as these agencies have different needs, levels of funding, and ongoing agency-unique systems development; (10) State needs to complete its detailed information technology architecture to guide and effectively control its own information technology acquisitions; (11) the security of the common system must be fully addressed before its deployment to ensure that sensitivity data is not stolen, modified, or lost; and (12) the Panel recognized that security risks would be increased with greater connectivity and indicated that solutions, such as the use of industry best practices and security software, would be required to mitigate these risks.

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