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AFRIK-IT  November 1998

AFRIK-IT November 1998

Subject:

USAID-Bashing? No, just want the Agency to be Accountable and forthright

From:

Christopher Byrne <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Wed, 25 Nov 1998 23:55:05 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (113 lines)

I received the following message and felt I should answer to the whole
list because of issues that are raised:

Brian Bacon wrote:
>
> Chris,
>
> In a quick survey of your International Development Network (IDN) home page, seems you've devoted a fair amount of energy to publicizing the activities of organization receiving USAID funding. A number of these activities even appear to target groups "helping Africa in IT." Front and center is NTCA's First International Conference on Rural Telecommunications, sponsored by their International Program - which is principally funded USAID.
>
> Regarding your latest contribution to AFRIK-IT, is this yet another case of USAID-bashing chic, or do you have something constructive to add?
>
> Brian Bacon
> Senior Analyst
> Research and Reference Services Project/
> Leland Initiative
> Tel: 202-661-5819
> Fax: 202-661-5891

What Brian and others need to understand is that just because the IDN
covers organizations that receive USAID funding does not mean we are
covering USAID. In fact, if USAID is mentioned in more than 5% of the
total content of our site, it is not because of anything USAID has done
or provided. In fact it is just the opposite: USAID does not possess
the political will to provide any meaningful information lest it might
get Senator Jesse Helms or some other politician upset and it seems they
lack a coherent, comprehensive (i.e. agency-wide) Information Strategy
(including IT Procurement Issues, IT Security, and Information
Dissemination). (Have they ever replaced their WANG Word processors?)

This is important because in an earlier message, Jeff Cochrane stated
that 'oh that is a different system and office from what we are doing so
do not worry'. Jeff (and Brian), I hope you have been in Washington
long enough to remember that perception is reality and if USAID is
criticized for having 6 out of 7 Mission Critical Systems not being
certified as Y2K compliant, USAID will and does have a serious
credibility problem when they try to implement IT Projects in developing
countries. Distinctions between offices will not be made. Heck, I
wonder how many people on this list realize that Jeff does not work for
USAID, but is only an employee of a USAID Contractor, which means he
does not speak for the agency.

What does this lack of a comprehensive IT Plan mean for USAID?

1. A global web presence for an agency without discipline or
structure. By this I mean that there are USAID Offices, Missions and
Projects off in their own little domains and are not part of the
USAID.gov domain. This means that a visitor to their site cannot do a
comprehensive search for information because the information is not
centralized. Of course the assumption is that there would be meaningful
information to search for to begin with. It is sad that the IDN
provided links to missions that did not even appear on the USAID Web
Site.

2. Employees creating their own unofficial USAID web sites because they
realize that the USAID Site is difficult at best to navigate (there are
at least two out there that I have come across).

3. The procurement of systems for vital agency functions that are not
Y2K compliant. You must remember that Y2K for the government is October
1, 1999, not Jan 1, 2000. Only a procurement and financial system? I
hope your employer's invoices get paid!

4. The publication of information which has absolutely no meaning or
worth as published. For example, on the web page for new awards (which
is merely a print version of what goes into the Commerce Business
Daily), one can see that 6 Contracts were awarded on 9/30/98, all with
the title "PROFESSIONAL, ADMINISTRATIVE AND MANAGEMENT SUPPORT SERVICES"
with no description. Tell me, what good does this kind of information
do anybody? It may as well not be published.

5. The availability of information before it is supposed to be made
public. The example here is the "RESULTS-ORIENTED ASSISTANCE: a USAID
SOURCEBOOK". The IDN got ahold of this document from a contractor's
site at least 2 months before it was supposed to go public.

6. The fact that the right hand does not know what the left hand is
doing. The example here is the publication of the 1999 Annual
Performance Plan on the Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC) Web
Site, buried down a layer or two, with absolutely no mention on the
USAID web site (and yes I think the DEC is a great tool except for the
fact that you have to pay for documents which should be available free
electronically). Is this any way to treat one of the most important
documents USAID has in order to comply with GPRA?

7. The publication of databases that are misleading and cut out entire
classes of web users. The example here is the Technical Consulting
Services database. When originally posted by USAID, it was posted as a
tool for all potential consultants to post cv's to for potential
opportunities. Some months after the fact, the posting is modified to
say "Oh sorry, this is actually only for one office of USAID, nit for
all offices". And of course, unless you used versions 4.04 of a
browser, you can't access the database. No, 3.0 won't cut it nor will
4.5. I am sorry , but Government Agencies have a responsibility and
obligation to build web sites and tools to the lowest common
denominator, even if that means text only.

I could go on and on, but it is late. This is not bashing Brian, this
is just the way it is. If I wanted to bash, I could really bash (and it
would not be pretty), but that is not productive.

Just yesterday, I read an article about what a wonderful job USAID (and
others) do in spending development money wisely, making the best
decisions for the people in the countries through empowerment and
education, shifting most of their consulting dollars to Host Country
Nationals, etc. And then I woke up.

Have a great Thanksgiving,

Christopher

and remember, these views are MY PERSONAL VIEWS and I do not plant
flags, I just call them as I see them.

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