Internet and Electronic Dial-Up Bulletin Boards

Information Reported by Federal Organizations Gao ID: GGD-97-86 June 16, 1997

A GAO survey found that 42 federal agencies spent nearly $350 million on Internet and electronic dial-up bulletin board activities in fiscal years 1994 through 1996. The bulk of these expenditures went for providing employees access to the Internet and establishing and maintaining sites on the World Wide Web. The 42 agencies reported having a total of about 4,300 web sites and about 215 electronic bulletin boards. Although there are no governmentwide policies governing employee use of the Internet, most federal agency guidance prohibits nonofficial uses. The potential exists for misuse of government-provided Internet resources--as it does for other government equipment, such as telephones and copying machines. Some federal agencies reported instances of what they viewed to be employee misuse, including accessing inappropriate material on the Internet and establishing web sites without official approval. A supplement to this report (World Wide Web Sites Reported by Federal Organizations, GAO/GGD-97-86S, June 1997) lists about 4,300 web sites reported by federal agencies. That document is available only on the Internet.

GAO noted that: (1) of the 43 federal organizations to which GAO sent data collection forms, 42 responded and estimated spending a total of about $349 million on Internet and BBS activities in FY 1994 through 1996; (2) in all, they estimated spending about $59 million in FY 1994, about $100 million in FY 1995, and about $190 million in FY 1996; (3) the bulk of these estimated expenditures, about $325 million, were for Internet activities to provide employees access to the Internet and to establish and maintain WWW sites; (4) the remainder of the estimated expenditures, about $23 million for the 3-year period, were for establishing and maintaining electronic dial-up BBSs; (5) the 42 federal organizations reported having a total of about 4,300 WWW sites and about 200 electronic dial-up BBSs; (6) all 42 organizations reported having at least one WWW site, but some reported that they did not use GAO's definition or did not list all sites generally because they do not track this information, and it was not readily available; (7) the 42 federal organizations estimated that they provided Internet e-mail access to about 1.7 million, or about 50 percent, of their civilian and military employees and WWW access to about 1 million, or about 30 percent, or their employees; (8) federal organizations associated numerous benefits with their Internet and BBS activities, including communicating more effectively with colleagues and with the public, easily accessing professional, scientific, or technical information, disseminating information quicker and more cost effectively, and reducing paperwork by conducting the work of the organization electronically; (9) while there is no governmentwide policy or regulations that specifically govern employee use of the Internet, most federal organizations that had guidance for their employees' use of the Internet prohibit any use of government-provided Internet resources for nonofficial uses; (10) a few organizations allow limited personal use; (11) although the Office of Management and Budget is working on governmentwide guidance on establishing and maintaining WWW sites, half the federal organizations reported having developed their own guidance for employees to use to establish and maintain WWW sites; and (12) the potential for misuse of government-provided Internet resources exists, as it does for other types of government-provided resources, such as telephones and copying machines.

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