Meeting the Government's Technology Challenge: Results of a GAO Symposium

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-02-01.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

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Meeting the
Results of
A GAO Symposium

          Managing the federal government’s information technology is a monu-
          mental task. Over 53,000 government computer and telecommunications
          systems touch the lives of Americans each day. As we stand on the
          brink of a new decade, the government is facing the enormous challenge
          of modernizing many of these vital systems to ensure that the public
          receives the services they expect and deserve. Although the federal gov-
          ernment is spending about $20 billion annually for this purpose, prog-
          ress has been painfully slow.

          We cannot afford this lack of progress. With forecasts of tighter budgets
          and a shrinking labor force, the government will soon have to meet the
          needs of the American taxpayer with less funding and fewer trained
          employees. Government leaders must increasingly rely upon information
          technology to streamline operations, improve service to the public, and
          handle the accelerating rate of change that will undoubtedly face gov-
          ernment in the 1990s.

          On October 4 and 5, 1989, GAO sponsored a symposium, “Meeting the
          Government’s Technology Challenge ,” that brought together leaders
          from industry and government to explore ways of better using informa-
          tion technology to meet the demands facing the government into the
          next century. This report builds on the symposium’s results to provide a
          framework for acquiring and managing information technology. We
          believe this framework offers an appropriate starting point for address-
          ing the technology challenge facing the government now and in the

          Charles A. Bowsher
          Comptroller General
          of the United States


Meeting the             The GAO Symposium: Focusing on the Technology                           4
Government’s                Challenge
                        Symposium Results: Principles for Managing Information
Technology Challenge        Technology
                        The Challenge for the Future

Appendix I
Biographies of
Industry Speakers
Appendix II                                                                                    14
Symposium Panelists
Appendix III                                                                                   15
Biographies of
Appendix IV                                                                                    16
Major Contributors to
This Report


                        ADP       Automatic Data Processing, Inc.
                        IMTEC     Information Management and Technology Division
                        GAO       General Accounting Office
                        USAA      United Services Automobile Association

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Page 3   GAO/IMTEC90-23 Results of A GAO Symposium
      Meeting the Government’s
      Technology Challenge

                             Information technology systems are the lifeblood of the federal govern-
                             ment, sustaining vital functions such as tax collection, aid to our elderly
                             and disadvantaged citizens, and national defense. Yet it is becoming
                             increasingly clear that many of these systems are approaching a state of
                             crisis. Some of the most critical ones, such as those used by the Internal
                             Revenue Service to process taxes, were designed almost 30 years ago
                             and rely on antiquated equipment and outdated designs. Given the likeli-
                             hood of continuing population increases, the demand for government
                             services may outstrip the processing capability of many of today’s sys-
                             tems before the end of this century.

                             Attempts to modernize the government’s information systems have pro-
                             duced few successes and many costly failures. Over the past several
                             years GAO has found skyrocketing costs, long delays, and elusive bene-
                             fits to be characteristic of far too many information technology projects.
                             The causes most often cited for this bleak history are a lack of effective
                             leadership by senior managers, ineffective communication among those
                             involved in developing information systems, incomplete knowledge of
                             the customer’s needs, the absence of a clear and complete systems plan
                             or architecture, and frequent turnover among project managers and
                             other key personnel. This record of failure has resulted in a lack of pub-
                             lic confidence regarding the government’s ability to manage information
                             systems projects. In light of the current budget deficit and the growing
                             demand for government services, federal managers must find a way to
                             break this cycle of failure and begin creating a workable strategy for
                             meeting the demands of the future.

                             Modernizing the federal government’s information technology is an
      The GAO Symposium:     enormous and complex undertaking. Given the government’s disap-
      Focusing on the        pointing record in this area, a consensus has been building among fed-
      Technology Challenge   era1 leaders that new ways of addressing this challenge must be
                             explored. In October 1989 GAO convened a symposium, “Meeting the
                             Government’s Technology Challenge,” to foster new ideas and fresh
                             approaches to developing and managing the government’s information
                             technology systems. By bringing together leaders from industry, the
                             Congress, and the executive agencies, we sought to begin a dialogue
                             involving the major parties involved in helping the federal government
                             use technology to meet the nation’s needs. Dr. Peter Keen, Executive
                             Director of the International Center for Information Technologies, mod-
                             erated the symposium.

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                       Meeting the Government’s
                       Technology Challenge

                       During the 2-day event, participants explored information technology
                       issues and debated ways to ensure that the government will receive the
                       greatest benefit for its information technology investments. To begin the
                       symposium, speakers from private industry who had been highly suc-
                       cessful in developing information technology systems recounted their
                       experiences. Their presentations were particularly pertinent because the
                       challenges facing these organizations were similar to those confronting
                       the government; each was involved in delivering services to the public
                       that required processing large amounts of data in short amounts of time.
                       The speakers and the organizations they represent were General Donald
                       Lasher (ret.), President for Information Systems, United Services Auto-
                       mobile Association (LTSAA);John Fisher, Senior Vice President, Bane One
                       Corporation; Jim Grant, Executive Vice President for Systems and Tech-
                       nology, The Royal Bank of Canada; and Barry Kotar, President and
                       Chief Executive Officer, Covia Corporation. Appendix I contains addi-
                       tional information on these speakers.

                       Following the industry speakers, panels composed of representatives
                       from federal agencies, congressional committees, private industry, and
                       academia discussed alternatives for addressing the federal government’s
                       dilemma. The ideas generated in the panels were then debated during a
                       plenary session. Appendix II contains a listing of the panelists. Senator
                       Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Representative Edward Markey of
                       Massachusetts offered congressional perspectives on the information
                       technology challenge. Additional information on these speakers is pro-
                       vided in appendix III.

                       Five principles for effective management of information technology
Symposium Results:     emerged during the symposium. Together they provide a framework for
Principles for         successfully integrating information technology into the business of gov-
Managing Information   ernment. GAO'S experiences over the years in reviewing the govern-
                       ment’s use of this technology has confirmed the validity of these
Technology             principles. GAO suggests that agency heads examine their use of informa-
                       tion technology and apply the following principles when developing and
                       managing their technology plans.

                       Principle   1: Commitment   and Vision Begin at the Top

                       Most successful automation efforts begin with a top manager who has a
                       clear vision of how the organization can benefit from information tech-
                       nology and a commitment to making this vision a reality. Without clear
                       direction and support from the top, modernization programs tend to

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                                       Meeting   the Govemment’s
                                       Technology Challenge

                                       degenerate into loose collections of independent systems. Often these
                                       systems are developed under the oversight of technical managers who
                                       focus on the needs of their individual units rather than the organiza-
                                       tion’s larger mission and goals. The net result is that the systems that
                                       are developed do not effectively meet the organization’s or the public’s

                                       The importance of visionary leadership was clearly illustrated by John
                                       Fisher of Bane One in describing the financial services industry. During
                                       the last decade-when many banks were losing ground to their competi-
                                       tors-bank managers were repeatedly criticized as lacking vision. An
                                       important aspect of this lack of vision was the bank managers’ reluc-
                                       tance to embrace the promise of technology. He noted that this situation
                                       has recently changed, with many banks viewing technology as a strate-
                                       gic tool enabling them to stay ahead of the competition. Mr. Fisher sug-
                                       gested that the federal government’s need for visionary leadership was
                                       analogous to the banking environment during the last decade.

                                       Senior managers should examine their missions and begin to look for-
                                       ward-beyond     the next budget cycle-to find the best way of serving
                                       the needs of the public in the future. Instead of simply automating
                                       existing processes and procedures, leaders need to take a fresh look at
                                       alternative ways of accomplishing their goals and embody this new
                                       thinking into a vision that can guide systems development over the long
                                       term. According to General Lasher of USAA,if information systems are
                                       developed in concert with a clear long-range vision, they become the
                                       organization’s “strategic weapon” for effectively accomplishing its

                                       After examining their mission in light of the public’s future needs,
                                       agency leaders should prepare clear, forward-looking statements articu-
Leaders need to take a fresh look at   lating the vision. Such a statement should describe what services the
alternative  ways of accomplishing
their goals, instead of simply
                                       agency is to provide now and in the future and present critical mile-
automating    existing processes and   stones for implementing the vision. Specific technology plans should
procedures.                            then be developed that will transform this vision into reality.

                                       The agency’s senior official for information resources management
                                       should play a leading role in these activities. Specifically, this official
                                       should assist in defining the vision and preparing the agency’s technol-
                                       ogy plan, and then ensure that the ongoing and proposed systems devel-
                                       opment projects fall logically within this plan. The symposium
                                       participants reached a consensus that agencies need to redefine the role
                                       of the senior information resources management official and elevate the

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authority of this position to ensure that these responsibilities are

Principle   2: Partnerships   Can Help Define the Vision

Forging alliances and cultivating partnerships is an essential part of
defining and implementing an agency’s strategic vision. Having access to
the best available knowledge and advice from government, industry,
and academia is critical when establishing the vision and the supporting
architecture. Advisory panels, private consulting firms, research foun-
dations, and other government agencies can provide fresh, independent
perspectives and new insights. Alliances with external organizations
such as these were cited by symposium participants as being invaluable.

Within an organization, partnerships between program offices and tech-
nical groups, at all levels, can promote effective communication and
cooperative working relationships. Agencies should establish such part-
nerships as a means of ending the artificial and damaging split between
technical planning and program implementation. Jim Grant of The Royal
Bank of Canada noted that allowing both groups-technical       and pro-
gram-to actively participate on architectural planning committees
almost guarantees that concerns, ideas, and solutions from both sides
will be aired and addressed.

General Lasher echoed this approach for establishing organizational
partnerships, USAAhas created an “executive partnership” among senior
managers from both program units and systems groups that promotes a
cooperative environment. Representing top management, US-U’SArchi-
tecture Review Board regularly convenes to ensure that stated policies
and information technology projects conform to the organization’s vision
for the future. The consensus among the symposium participants was
that agency officials should establish similar boards to ensure that the
guiding vision is realized.

Agency leaders should also involve the Congress as an active partner in
defining and implementing their vision. Top management must clearly
articulate to the Congress how the vision will help achieve the agency’s
mission and describe how each major information technology project
will contribute to realizing the vision. It is particularly important that
the information provided to decisionmakers is as complete and realistic
as possible. Further, agency management needs to evaluate and discuss
with the Congress the impact its vision will have on the organizational
structure and congressional constituencies. Technological change often

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                                          Meeting the Government’s
                                          Technology Challenge

                                          entails organizational change; agencies should have a plan for managing
                                          both and should communicate these plans to the Congress. With a
                                          clearer understanding of the agency’s vision and goals, the Congress will
                                          be in a better position to make informed oversight decisions and assist in
                                          resolving difficult issues. Both Senator Frank Lautenberg and Represen-
                                          tative Edward Markey highlighted the importance of working together
                                          to resolve the technology challenges facing the government.

                                          Principle     3: Service to the Public Should Be the Vision’s

                                          Successful use of information technology requires understanding the
                                          needs of the customer and letting those needs dictate how technology is
                                          used. Government typically focuses its attention on internal operational
                                          needs, with little regard to an important aspect of its mission-meeting
                                          the needs and desires of the American public. Planning for information
                                          technology without considering the needs of the public can backfire,
                                          resulting in underutilized systems, increased costs, and dissatisfied

                                          During the symposium, industry leaders repeatedly emphasized that
                                          their organizations’ strategies were driven to a large extent by the needs
                                          of their customers. According to Barry Kotar, Covia Corporation’s tech-
                                          nology plan is based on a comprehensive assessment and understanding
                                          of the customer’s priorities and needs. In many federal agencies, the ser-
                                          vices they provide are limited by what their systems can handle, not
                                          what the taxpayer wants. Successful leaders must be in a position to
                                          anticipate how their technology systems can accommodate changes in
                                          taxpayer requirements. Echoing this point, Jim Grant observed that
                                          forming a virtual partnership with the customer is essential for develop-
                                          ing a service-oriented system.

      Agencies should actively seek to    Senior executives should make a concerted effort to understand and
      identify and wderstand    the       incorporate the needs of the American public in developing information
      taxpayers’ needs, both NOW and in   technology strategies. They must actively seek to identify and under-
      the future, and not rely on the
      perceived dernarlds of the past.    stand the taxpayers’ needs, both now and in the future, and not rely on
                                          the perceived demands of the past. Specific vehicles for obtaining this
                                          information could include customer surveys and pilot testing. Evidence
                                          that agencies are listening to taxpayers’ views will encourage a sc’nse of
                                          confidence that scarce tax dollars are being used appropriately.

                                          Page 8                                 GAO/IMTECgO-23Resulta of A GAO S) mposium

Meeting the Government’s
Technology Challenge

Principle   4: A Clear, Flexible   Architecture      Should Support     the

Information systems are one of the most important tools for effectively
accomplishing the organization’s mission. For maximum efficiency and
effectiveness, these systems should be developed as part of an overall
architecture or plan. An architecture is a blueprint explaining the struc-
ture of and communications among an organization’s information tech-
nology resources- hardware, software, and people. It is the foundation
upon which an agency builds, modifies, and expands its organizational

The architecture should drive all major technology purchases. Rather
than simply buying information technology without a clear plan for how
it will fit into the agency’s overall strategy, leaders need a comprehen-
sive plan that will dictate the equipment and resources required. This
should reduce the likelihood of acquiring inappropriate or duplicate
technology and ensure that the technology can be integrated with
existing systems. Developing a collection of independent information
systems with no underlying foundation or architecture is unacceptable.

A clear, well-conceived architecture also offers the possibility of build-
ing an integrated information system one piece at a time, thereby mini-
mizing the risks inherent in an all-or-nothing strategy. Constructing a
system incrementally provides flexibility to modify or expand the sys-
tem in response to changes in customer needs, legislative requirements,
or technological advances. Barry Kotar, for example, built Covia’s sys-
tem incrementally using proven building blocks, thereby reducing the
project’s risks. This modular approach also enables the customer to
begin reaping the benefits of the system sooner. The symposium partici-
pants agreed that it was preferable to avoid very large, monolithic
projects in favor of developing smaller, modular components within the

Principle   6: Management     Continuity       Is Needed to Implement         the

Continuity at the project management level is essential to realizing the
vision. In the past, government has had difficulty maintaining the con-
tinuity necessary to provide consistent direction and clear accountabil-
ity for information systems development efforts. All too often, changes
in management occur that significantly affect the direction of an infor-
mation systems project, thereby increasing costs, delaying the deli\~cry

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                            Meeting the Government’s
                            Technology Challenge

                            of the project’s benefits, and clouding accountability for the project’s

                            Assembling and retaining a team of highly qualified officials to manage
                            critical information systems projects is essential to implementing the
                            vision. Jim Grant stressed that the quality of the people supporting the
                            leaders in the organization will determine whether the vision can be car-
                            ried out. Operating on this philosophy, The Royal Bank of Canada estab-
                            lished an intensive university recruiting program to ensure that highly
                            skilled students are being hired. In this vein, symposium participants
                            agreed that a move toward professionalizing the field of information
                            resources management would enhance the quality of project managers.
                            Suggestions offered included establishing a governmentwide training
                            curriculum and developing a federal project management methodology.

                            Since retaining key, highly qualified officials to maintain continuity
                            within technology projects is a major dilemma, agencies should explore
                            new ways of bringing continuity to the process of managing these
                            projects. For example, developing a detailed long-term strategy that can
                            transcend personnel changes would mitigate some of the risks associated
                            with management turnover. Using advisory committees and individual
                            consultants to provide consistent institutional memory and perspective
                            would also help achieve continuity.

                            As we move toward the next century, information technology promises
The Challenge for the       to provide higher quality government services at reduced cost to the
Future                      public. The challenge of making this promise a reality rests primarily
                            with our leaders, who must provide the commitment and vision neces-
                            sary to change the way government operates in this critical arena. Spe-
                            cifically, GAO believes that for this endeavor to be successful, federal
                            leaders will need to

                        .   charge the senior information resources management official in each
                            agency with defining and implementing a clear yet flexible architecture
                            that embodies the agency’s vision of how it will do business in the
                            encourage the formation of internal and external partnerships through
                            organizations such as architecture planning committees, review boards,
                            or advisory committees;
                            clearly explain the agency’s overall vision and direction in providing
                            information to the Congress;

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    Meeting   the Government’s
    Technology Challenge

. ground all technology decisions in a thorough understanding of the
  needs of the public;
l adopt a modular approach to developing major systems and consider
  capping the size of project phases where implementation risks are high;
l explore ways of professionalizing the field of information resources
  management, such as establishing a governmentwide training curricu-
  lum and developing a federal project management methodology; and
l foster continuity through the use of detailed long-term plans, advisory
  committees, and individual consultants.

    These steps constitute a promising agenda for action, but they are only a
    beginning. The dialogue begun during the symposium must be continued,
    new insights must be shared, and new solutions must be found if the
    government is to meet its technology challenge.

    The time to act is now. The information technology crisis the govern-
    ment is facing will not resolve itself; it requires immediate action and
    continuing attention. Committed, visionary leadership is needed to
    address this crisis. Agency heads should demonstrate this leadership by
    applying the framework to their strategies for acquiring and managing
    information technology.

    Page 11                            GAO/lMTECW23 Resulta of A GAO Symposium

      bit&qkies              of Industry Speakers

      John F. Fisher             John Fisher is Senior Vice President for Bane One Corporation. Known
                                 today as an innovator in electronic consumer banking, Bane One enjoys
      Bane One Corporation       great success: it is the third most profitable bank in Ohio’s five-state
                                 area and boasts over $36 billion in assets.

                                 Mr. Fisher’s first major banking innovation was the bank credit card. In
                                 1966, Bane One joined with Bank of America, which enabled Bane One
                                 to market the credit card nationally. The BankAmericard, later renamed
                                 Visa, was the first nationally accepted credit card and established Bane
                                 One as a banking leader. Under Mr. Fisher, Bane One also produced the
                                 first on-line credit-card authorization service and the first form of over-
                                 draft protection, linking credit cards together with checking accounts.
                                 Mr. Fisher has set a precedent in the industry by demonstrating the
                                 close relationship between technology and banking in meeting the needs
                                 of the customer.

      J.C. (Jim) Grant           Jim Grant is the Executive Vice President for Systems and Technology
                                 at The Royal Bank of Canada. The Royal Bank is Canada’s largest, with
      The Royal Bank of Canada   assets exceeding U.S.$90 billion and having 1,500 domestic branches
                                 plus 240 international offices.

                                 Headquartered in Montreal and Toronto, the Royal Bank has been a
                                 leader in the application of new technologies for efficient operational
                                 management and for providing a variety of sophisticated services.
                                 Under Mr. Grant’s leadership, the Royal Bank has expanded its elec-
                                 tronic network for both personal and commercial banking.

      Barry A. Kotar             Barry Kotar is President and Chief Executive Officer of Covia Corpora-
                                 tion, a position he has held since the company was formed in January
      Covia Corporation          1987 as an operating subsidiary of United Airlines. In August 1988,
                                 United sold half of Covia to five other air carriers, forming a partner-
                                 ship with USAir, British Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Swissair,
                                 and Alitalia.

                                 Covia is the leading worldwide travel distribution company. Under Mr.
                                 Kotar’s leadership, the company develops and markets advanced auto-
                                 mation products, information systems, and network services, including
                                 the world’s most advanced computer reservation system. Mr. Kotar’s
                                 philosophy stresses developing systems that will support corporate
                                 growth and expansion in the future.

                                 Page 12                              GAO/IMTlC90-22 Results of A GAO Symposium

                                API=*     1
                                Biographies of Industry Speakers

       Gen. Donald R. Lasher    Donald Lasher is President of Information Services for United Services
                                Automobile Association, an insurance and financial services company
       United Services          noted as a technological leader. General Lasher provides the automated
       Automobile Association   systems, communications, and computer support for all USAAactivities.
                                Directing a 1,500~person systems and telecommunications staff, he over-
                                sees an operation whose budget exceeds $125 million annually and
                                includes the world’s largest automatic telephone call distribution system
                                under one roof.

                                At U~AA,General Lasher spearheaded development of an automated,
                                multifunctional workstation environment with on-line, real-time support
                                to over 11,500 users worldwide. He also directed the development of a
                                highly successful image-processing system that captures and stores all
                                of U~AA’Sincoming property and casualty policy service mail.

                                Page 13                             GAO/IMTBG30-23 Results of A GAO Symposium

Appendix II

Symposium Panelists

              Dr. Maryam Alavi, Associate Professor of Information Systems, Univer-
              sity of Maryland

              Jack L. Brock, Director, Government Information and Financial Manage-
              ment, U.S. General Accounting Office

              Herbert R. Doggette, Jr., Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social
              Security Administration

              John R. Dyer, Deputy Commissioner for Management, Social Security

              Robert Gellman, Staff Member, Subcommittee on Government Informa-
              tion, Justice and Agriculture, House Committee on Government

              Edward J. Gleiman, Staff Director, Subcommittee on Federal Services,
              Post Office and Civil Service, Senate Committee on Governmental

              Theodore F. Gonter, Director, Systems Engineering and Integration,
              Internal Revenue Service

              Steven Katz, Chief Counsel, Subcommittee on Government Information
              and Regulation, Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs

              Francis A. McDonough, Deputy Commissioner for Federal Information
              Resources Management, General Services Administration

              Peter C.S. Nicoll, Manager, Business Management Program, The Royal
              Bank of Canada

              Henry H. Philcox, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Computer Services,
              Internal Revenue Service

              Fred L. Sims, Assistant Commissioner, Information Resources Manage-
              ment Policy, General Services Administration

              Dr. Rona B. Stillman, Chief Scientist, U.S. General Accounting Office

              Lynda Woodman, President, International Center for Information

              Page 14                             GAO/IMTBC3@23 Results of A GAO Symposium
Appendix III

Biographies of CongressionalSpeakers

Sen. Frank Rq, Lautenberg   Frank Lautenberg represents the state of New Jersey in the IJnited
State of New Jersey         States Senate. Since 1985 he has been a member of the Senate Appropri-
                            ations Committee, with key roles on various subcommittees. In 1987
                            Senator Lautenberg began chairing the Committee’s Subcommittee on

                            After graduating in 1949 from Columbia University with a degree in
                            economics, Senator Lautenberg began selling payroll services for a small
                            business in New Jersey. Aided by computer technology, this business
                            evolved into Automatic Data Processing (ADP), Inc., marking the begin-
                            ning of the American computing services industry.

                            Over the past 30 years, ADP, Inc., has become a worldwide leader in the
                            computing industry. Senator Lautenberg served as Chief Executive
                            Officer and Chairman of the Board until elected to the Senate in 1982.
                            Today, ADP is the largest computing services firm in the world, with
                            annual revenues of more than $1 billion and more than 22,000

Rep. Edward J. MIarkey      A graduate of Boston College School of Law, Edward Markey was
Seventh District            elected to the Congress in 1976 from the seventh district of Massachu-
                            setts. Since his election to the Congress, he has risen steadily in the
of Massachusetts            ranks of its committee structure.

                            In 1987 Representative Markey took over the chairmanship of the Tele-
                            communications and Finance Subcommittee of the Energy and Com-
                            merce Committee, a post that holds particular interest for him because
                            of Boston’s growing financial sector and Massachusetts’ role as a leader
                            in the high-technology community. As subcommittee chairman, he pre-
                            sides over interstate and foreign telecommunications, including all tele-
                            communications and information transmission. Representative Markey’s
                            recent efforts involve overhauling the regulation of securities laws to
                            prevent a recurrence of the stock market crash of 1987.

                            Page 15                             GAO/IMTEG9O-23Results of A GAO Symposium
Appendix IV

Major Contributors to This &port

                       Ralph V. Carlone, Assistant Comptroller General, (202) 275-4892
Information            Timothv P. Bowling. Assistant Director, (202) 275-8008
Management and         Leslee kL. Bollea, deputy Project Manager .
                       Lee H. Ho, Deputy Project Manager
Technology Division,
Washington, D.C.

(510429)               Page 16                            GAO/IMTEG3O-23   Results of A GAO Symposium
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