Lawmaker seeks czar to oversee transition to next-generation Internet

The U.S. government, the world's largest purchaser of information technology products and services, needs a central authority dedicated to administering agencies' transition to the next-generation Internet, the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee said Tuesday.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said federal agencies will play a key role in leading the country's transition to the upgraded network known as Internet Protocol version 6, or IPv6. Failing to do so would place the United States in a "back-seat position" in the development of the Internet, he said, as China and Europe aggressively move forward with the new standard. He likened the challenges to those that agencies faced in preparation for the Year 2000 bug.

Davis said the Bush administration needs to appoint an IPv6 czar in the Office of Management and Budget, with authority to influence agencies' budgets.

"It is worth putting a czar or somebody up there to make sure that this stuff gets implemented," Davis said at an industry event sponsored by Juniper Networks. "OMB is natural because they control budgets ultimately … and I think the sooner the better."

OMB spokesman Alex Conant said Karen Evans, the administrator in the Office of E-Gov and Information Technology, already has the authority and is providing the oversight, policies and framework needed for the IPv6 transition.

Agencies are up against a June 3 OMB-mandated deadline for completing an inventory of all applications and peripherals that use IP addresses and are connected to the core of their networks. By that date, agencies must also complete analysis of plans for the IPv6 transition.

By June 30, 2008, all agencies must have completed the transition of their core networks to IPv6.

The next-generation Internet, sometimes dubbed "the second version of the Internet," is designed to allow more Internet addresses.

Under the current standard, known as IPv4, there are 4.3 billion addresses. As more devices have their own addresses, such as cell phones, and as the Internet grows in high population countries, such as China and India, more addresses will be needed.

IPv6 is supposed to support an almost unlimited number of addresses and significantly enhance the mobility of devices connected to the Internet.

Davis said drumming up support in Congress has been difficult because most companies involved in the transition are concentrated in small pockets within the United States, but he believes this is changing.

"The problem is that if you walk up to the average member of Congress and say, 'What do you think of IPv6?' they're going to think it's some kind of suntan lotion," Davis said.

In June 2005, Davis' committee held hearings on the issue, and he said he plans to hold more before the 2006 congressional elections.

David Powner, director of information technology management issues at the Government Accountability Office, said his office is conducting ongoing oversight of agencies' progress and will most likely produce a report in the summer.

Powner said it is interesting that Davis suggested an IPv6 czar and that his office is still waiting to see if OMB's efforts to guide the transition are successful.

Dale Geesey, vice president of consulting for V6 Transition, the consulting and training arm of Innofone.com Inc., said an IPv6 czar would be a solid way to approach the transition and would align with the centralized transition office he has advocated.

"Agencies need to start planning, start buying the right equipment … the OMB mandate is just the backbone of the network," Geesey said. "Agencies don't want to get three or four years down the road and say 'Oh my gosh. We need it.' By then, they'll be in a very bad situation where it'll cost significantly to transition."

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