OMB: Agencies must use advanced Internet by 2008

Federal agencies must use the next-generation Internet service known as Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6) by June 2008, the White House Office of Management and Budget announced Wednesday.

The office said it would issue a policy memorandum dictating full federal "IPv6" compliance in an effort to spur its deployment throughout government agencies.

The Defense Department currently is the only federal body to have made strides in implementing IPv6. Due to this "lack of government-wide progress" and concerns about the "complexities of transition," OMB will release a "comprehensive transition planning guide," OMB Administrator Karen Evans said in written testimony for the House Government Reform Committee.

The five-point compliance guide will require agencies to familiarize themselves with transition issues, an effort Evans described as the "overarching challenge" of moving from the current IPv4 to IPv6. The move will "require many changes in the architecture of many agency networks," as well as "large capital investments and labor resources."

An undertaking so complex will require an agency point person to lead and coordinate the transition, Evans said. "This person will be responsible for monitoring, enforcing and reporting on the transition and implementation of IPv6 within the agency."

With this person in place, agencies will be charged with developing, by the first quarter of fiscal 2006, an inventory of existing IP-capable equipment and an analysis to determine the financial impact and risks of the transition, Evans said.

"While we know that IPv6 technologies are deployed throughout the government ... we do not know specifically which ones, how many there are, or precisely where they are located," she said. "For cost, the agencies must report on estimates for planning, infrastructure acquisition, training and risk mitigation."

Finally, the government's Chief Information Officers Council will be charged with developing "more detailed IPv6 implementing guidance" by year's end, Evans said. The group will have to issue guidance on developing a sequencing plan, IPv6 integration, training materials and test plans for compatibility.

With these efforts in place, OMB wants all agencies to use IPv6 by June 2008, Evans said. "Setting this firm date is necessary to maintain focus on this important issue."

In a 41 page report released in May, the Government Accountability Office said that federal agencies other than the Defense Department have yet to plan for IPv6.

David Powner, GAO director of information technology management issues, told the committee that the government is behind the "8 ball" from a leadership perspective in implementing IPv6.

"It's clear we don't have a deadline like Y2K," Powner said. "[But] if we allow others to develop IPv6 before us, they'll be the ones to develop the killer application."

Having federal agencies work on transition efforts will help "further increase industry activities in the United States," said John Curran, chairman of the American Registry for Internet Numbers.

Jawad Khaki, corporate vice president for Microsoft, pushed for a "market-based conversion to IPv6 [as] the most technologically feasible and least disruptive" transition process. He speculated that the flexible nature of IPv6 would mean that conversion activity would happen "at the edge of the network" with home computers, eventually moving to "encompass the rest of the global Internet infrastructure."

Microsoft's next operating system, dubbed Longhorn, will be "fully IPv6-capable," Khaki said.

"To reap the benefits from IPv6 federal agencies first must begin to plan and develop requirements that will take full advantage of what the new protocol offers," committee Chairman Tom Davis said. The Virginia Republican expressed concern about the security and competitive risks associated with the IPv6 transition.

Reporter Daniel Pulliam contributed to this story.