Enhancing the Department of State's Information TechnologyGrant Green, Under Secretary for Management
Remarks at Conference on Information Technology and the Practice of Diplomacy, Sponsored by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
April 20, 2001
The Department of State is at a critical cross-roads in terms of its position in international affairs and 21st century diplomacy. I donít have to remind this group that over the past decade, the world has become far more complex, interconnected, and frankly, uncertain. In addition to tremendous geopolitical changes, there has been a revolution in information technology, symbolized most notably by the Internet. The Department of State must embrace these changes if it is to maintain its leadership role in the pursuit of US foreign policy.
Not that long ago, our national interests were defined by overarching geopolitical issues. Today, the issues that affect Americaís vital interests are much more broad. More complex; once, embassies were focused on state to state, government to government relations. Today, embassies must engage not only foreign governments, but also the full spectrum of civil society, including business leaders, the public, the media, the scientific community, academia, non-governmental organizations and others. To meet these challenges, the Department must put in place the information technology --- that is, networks, systems, and desktop tools -- that our diplomats and analysts need.
While international business is conducted between distant points of the globe at the speed of light, the employees in our embassies often cannot communicate securely with colleagues just down the hall, or in the next country, let alone with their parent agencies in Washington. Embassy officers collaborating on projects often do so without the benefit of shared databases or communication systems. Officers responsible for issue advocacy donít have direct electronic access to their interlocutors. It is astounding to me that in the midst of a knowledge-based world economy, an overwhelming majority of State Department employees donít have desktop access to browse the Internet.
It is time for change.
The Department should be a leader in the creation of common classified and unclassified technology platforms to connect U.S. government personnel overseas with one another, with their local and international counterparts, and with Washington. It needs to build up its international telecommunications network and workforce to support modern business tools such as video-teleconferencing and web-based applications. And, it needs to do this while guarding against cyber-threats.
The Department needs these tools not only to carry out foreign policy, but also to deliver a constantly increasing volume of customer services. By fiscal year 2005, the Department needs to be prepared to issue 11 million U.S. passports, 12 million non-immigrant visas and over 500,000 immigrant visas annually. This goal will only be accomplished by capitalizing on the productivity gains inherent in the use of new information technology.
This Secretary is committed to securing the resources necessary for expediting and completing the modernization process.
Iíd like to highlight just a few of the things we plan to do through e-Diplomacy. Before considering any application of technology, we need to come to a clear understanding of our objectives. In short, what exactly can be done or done better through the use of information technology?
First, information reporting and analysis will be improved dramatically. With todayís information overload, we can no longer rely on old-fashioned techniques, such as cables to access and exchange information. We must move at Internet speed, allowing our people on the ground to have instantaneous access to the information they need. They must have desktop access to the best tools for massaging and analyzing that information, and then be able to post it to internal and external web sites for others who need it. Reporting will become far more dynamic, interactive, collaborative, and just plain faster!
Second, electronic collaboration will become a dominant mode of doing business, both internally and externally. Issues are too complex for people to work alone or for this Department to work in isolation. To formulate effective foreign policy, we must work with other countries, federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations, as well as staff from multiple bureaus and posts to tackle the issues of the day. We literally have to be in many places at the same time. How can we do this? Via our electronic networks, desktop tools, and mobile, flexible computing devices. Such capabilities as video conferencing, on-line meetings, collaboration zones, workgroup processes, and so on Ė with some diligent attention, these can all be part of the picture in the relatively near future.
Third, public diplomacy will be strengthened. Open technology can enable State to project leadership as the premier representative of the U.S. government abroad. Effective communication is central to the core mission of the Department of State. In the current world news environment, public affairs people throughout Washington and at all embassies need facts and authoritative U.S. policy information at the right time and in a workable format.
Events unfold in real time, and although the Department is not set up to compete with established news organizations, it is critical for it to react quickly with official U.S. statements regarding all types of overseas events -- from armed conflict, to natural disasters, to changes in foreign leadership. The obvious conduit for much of this information is the Internet. It is both the source and distribution lifeline for much of Public Diplomacyís activities. In short, without communication via the Internet, the Departmentís Public Diplomacy mission would be far less effective.
Priorities for the Near Term
Two -- complete the Departmentís global IT infrastructure: classified and unclassified, domestic and overseas. We must have in place secure networks, with adequate capacity and the ability to adjust capacity to meet our growing and changing needs. We have to put in place standard industry-proven solutions to meet our business requirements and enhance our administrative support. We have to make everything easy to use and model our solutions on the best practices in government and industry. We must provide strong, but unobtrusive, security to protect our assets and minimize risks, while allowing us to modernize and do our jobs. Indeed, we will have security, but we will not let security become an obstacle to getting things done. We will employ risk management, rather than risk avoidance, to manage our assets and perform our work. The flagship program for the next step in infrastructure modernization will be the worldwide deployment of a classified computing platform and network. We are committed to completing this deployment in the next two years.
Three -- work with other international affairs agencies to promote effective interagency collaboration and information exchange. We must get past the parochialism of individual agencies, and come together to promote our national interests in an integrated, coherent way. We will create collaboration zones to provide the virtual environments that are such a critical ingredient in this endeavor.
Four -- modernize our messaging system. We simply must replace the World War II vintage telegram system with a modern solution that allows for reliable, secure, and flexible exchange of formal and informal records and information. The new system will retain the essentials of the current process, while operating in a totally modern, Internet-like environment. Imagine signing onto your computer in the morning -- or accessing the network from your palm pilot or cell phone or TV at home -- and reading all of your "messages" on the Departmentís internal worldwide web -- much like you can read the New York Times, Financial Times or Wallstreet Journal. No cables, no paper -- all of that replaced with high quality text, graphics, video, audio -- whatever medium makes sense to convey the information important to you. This is the kind of thinking we must do if we are to take our systems to the next level.
Five -- an international affairs focus. For too long, we have concentrated too much money and attention on administrative processes and systems, while largely ignoring our core diplomatic mission. While we need to finish our modernization of logistics and personnel and finance, we have to devote more resources to the needs of our front-line diplomats. In the military, we talk about the tooth to tail ratio -- well, simply put, we have to pay more attention to the teeth of diplomacy to those in the field. Iíd like to see us create an international affairs portal with special tools and information sources tailored to the needs of political and economic analysis and diplomatic activities. Iíd like to see us create a desktop for diplomats with instant access to all the applications and information diplomats need to do their job. And -- we are actively seeking these kinds of innovative ideas and approaches for applying IT to the direct work of diplomacy and analysis.
The heart of the management recommendations made by the independent task force chaired by my former boss, mentor and good friend Frank Carlucci is the concept of implementing a "resources for reform" action plan. This is a concept that I strongly embrace. And nowhere is it more evident than in the need for modern technology for the modern diplomat.
But, we must deliver on our promises. We must succeed with Internet access and classified deployment if we have any hope of further funding. I am confident that we can do this, and that in turn, we will continue to get the needed funds to support our IT modernization efforts. Secretary Powell is fully on-board -- he knows how vital it is for this Department to have the kind of modern IT tools we have been discussing. As long as we deliver, Secretary Powell and I will continue to fight for the resources.
Next, we must all come together in the Department and work as one to accomplish goals. A challenge for any organization is to balance leadership and focus with innovation. And we want to do exactly that. Our ambitious IT programs must have central leadership and coordination. But at the same time, we must promote innovations and input from the field. We will make progress only when both of these elements are in place and we will work hard to see that this happens.
To help, we have a Secretary that understands information technology, is interested in it and will continue to push us until our modernization goals are achieved.
Released on April 20, 2001