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Results in Brief

Although the federal organizations provided us with expenditure data for their Internet and BBS activities, it should be emphasized that these data are based largely on estimates. Some reporting officials told us that they relied on estimates because they do not typically account for Internet and BBS expenditures separately from other information technology expenditures.

Of the 43 federal organizations to which we sent data collection forms, 42 responded1 and estimated spending a total of about $349 million on Internet and BBS activities in fiscal years 1994 through 1996. In all, they estimated spending about $59 million in fiscal year 1994, about $100 million in fiscal year 1995, and about $190 million in fiscal year 1996. 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. The remainder of the estimated expenditures--about $23 million for the 3-year period--were for establishing and maintaining electronic dial-up BBSs.

The 42 federal organizations reported having a total of about 4,300 WWW sites and about 215 electronic dial-up BBSs. Because of your interest in identifying the number of distinct WWW sites and to encourage consistent reporting, we provided the federal organizations with a definition of a WWW site. All 42 organizations reported having at least one WWW site, but some reported that they did not use our definition or did not list all sites generally because they do not track this information, and it was not readily available.

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 31 percent, of their employees.

The Internet has become a valuable and widely used means of communicating and sharing information. 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.

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. A few organizations allow limited personal use. Although OMB 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.

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. Although we did not assess the appropriateness of employee use of government-provided resources during this review, some of the federal organizations reported instances of what they considered to be employee misuse to us. These included accessing what the agencies considered to be inappropriate material on the Internet and establishing WWW sites without approval.

1 As of May 30, 1997, the Department of State had not responded to our data collection form.

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