Letters

Wires Crossed

I am writing to express concerns about the Sept. 15 article published in Government Executive entitled, "Wired for Trouble," by David Perera. The article is about the Integrated Wireless Network (IWN), an important information technology initiative for the Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury departments. I believe the article misrepresents the purpose of an important federal information technology initiative.

The article implies that the primary purpose of the IWN program is to address federal interoperability issues. This is not true. The actual primary purpose of the IWN is to meet the day-to-day tactical communications needs of the federal law enforcement and homeland security agents who will use the system. Interagency communications is only one of the requirements being fulfilled by the IWN. However, the IWN program's most important requirement is to provide technically advanced communications to facilitate the conduct of federal criminal investigations, border protection operations, and counterterrorism efforts. In supporting these missions, the IWN helps enable operational command and control functions and ensures federal agent safety. The IWN is necessary for the Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury departments to enforce federal laws, stem the flow of illegal immigration, and to protect the country from acts of terrorism.

In addition, the article discusses the relationship between IWN and the SAFECOM program, and implies that there is a disconnect between these two efforts. This is not true. There is a productive and well-managed collaboration between the IWN and SAFECOM. SAFECOM is a federal program designed to work with state and local entities to address the nation's interoperability issues. To ensure synergy and avoid duplication of effort, IWN program managers work cooperatively with the SAFECOM program. Specifically, IWN program officials participate in SAFECOM activities regularly, and the Department of Justice's representative on the SAFECOM executive committee is the deputy chief information officer who oversees the Justice Department's part of the IWN.

I hope that any further article on the IWN program in Government Executive magazine accurately depicts the program's mission and its importance to the law enforcement community.

Vance E. Hitch
Chief Information Officer
U.S. Department of Justice

Numbers Don't Count

Finally, some common sense ("The Human Factor," Sept. 15). Sadly, peers from my profession (psychology) with nothing else to do keep designing

systems to increase productivity by "objectifying" the supposedly important activities and then measuring them incessantly, reducing productivity and kicking initiative and creativity out the door. Both government and business need to hear more about "The Human Factor" approach, which will be inevitable when the current wave of "accountability" proves to account for nothing much.

Gregory J. Wheeler, Ph.D.
Lander, Wyo.

James Colvard's article is one of the most rational I have seen on this topic. A process like this one needs to be well-considered before we move to any governmentwide pay-for-performance system. It would be interesting to hear whether the Defense and Homeland Security departments (or other agencies with flexible authority) have considered this approach and to what degree they found it useful or wanting.

Colleen Woodard, Ph.D.
Federal Technology Services Inc.
Fairfax Station, Va.

Your article, "The Human Factor," is excellent. However, you know well that such common sense and government processes seldom mix. The entire objective of the newly proposed National Security Personnel System is just lip service for the billions the transition will cost taxpayers (i.e. filling the pockets of everyone's fifth cousin twice removed). It is only another way to spend megabucks. Sure glad our money is only printed paper, as the average taxpaying serf rarely has to worry about the maintenance and care of such worthless stuff.

J. Gale Spencer
Kansas City, Mo.

While "The Human Factor" points out the benefits of the military promotion model, it does not address any of its drawbacks. Even the military model does not always "promote the best qualified, based on performance" as the article states. You raise many valid points, but missed the mark in providing a full assessment of the disadvantages of the military promotion model.

Kristen Alvarez
Washington

"The Human Factor" is good analysis, up to the military analogy, which glossed over exactly what is considered by the promotion boards. Mostly, the boards consider an ever-changing variety of performance reports. In my 30 years in the Air Force, it seemed that the performance reports changed every five to seven years, as each became too predictable, and developed its own "code words" intended to signal the promotion board without discouraging the officer. Yet to those who had not broken the "code" in the rating system, it seemed that 95 percent of the officers were in the upper 5 percent.

J. Jeremiah Mahoney
Retired Air Force Colonel
Alexandria. Va.

Little Things Mean a Lot

I enjoyed "One Small Step for Managers" (Sept. 15), although you struck a dissonant chord when you wrote about playing music during a call hold as a form of small thing that could be used in my research position at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

I have spent more than my fair share of time on hold and talking to others about their experiences. Some kinds of music grate against personal sensibilities and tastes. Other music might be pleasant for a short time on hold, but becomes the equivalent of Chinese water torture over several minutes, forcing the caller to hang up. The same can be said about periodic "pleasant" voice reminders.

Being put on hold is so pervasive these days that there is no one good little thing that can improve the situation for all. A recitation of frequently asked questions and answers might be the least annoying because it offers a premature end to the wait if you get lucky enough to find your answer.

The smallest thing a call center could do is to avoid putting people on hold as much as possible.

The message of your column was valid and interesting. But clearly, a "little thing" stood out. Whether that proves the thesis or suggests that no matter how much you pay attention to the little things you will not always achieve your intended purpose is debatable.

David M. Bott
Office of Research, Development and
Information Centers for Medicare
and Medicaid Services
Baltimore

No Small Secret

Historically, small business has played a key role in federal government procurement. Regrettably, today small business is being marginalized, as Kimberly Palmer reports in "Best Bets: Top Contracting Shops Share Their Secrets" (Aug. 15). This stands in stark contrast to the fact that small businesses account for 70 percent of the jobs and an even higher proportion of job growth in our country today.

Too often, government agencies forecast large dollar savings through contract bundling and issuing more sole-source awards, but rarely are they able to document actual savings. For competition to remain effective throughout the contract period, our government needs more, not fewer, qualified bidders and contract award winners.

Chris Bates
President
National Office Products Alliance
Alexandria, Va.

Orthodox Service

"Praying for Priests" (Sept. 1) does not mention the need for Orthodox priests for service members of various Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions who proudly serve this nation. Orthodox faithful deserve the solace that comes from their own sacraments but in too many instances have been attended by chaplains of other faiths. The Orthodox Church hopes the armed forces will recruit and intentionally employ its priests to provide greater access as with any high-demand, low-inventory faith resource.

Capt. C. J. Cwiklinski
Chaplain Corps, Navy
Coast Guard Pacific Area
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