Spotlight Government Computer News, April 29, 1996

NSF's Intranet gives its fluid
staff the information It needs

Network saves training time for foundation scientists
By Steve Zurier
GCN Staff

Everyone expects the National Science Foundation to be at the cutting edge of technology. After all, NSF funded the research that led to the development of the World Wide Web. So it's no surprise that NSF has one of the slickest intranets-internal networks built on Web technology.

But NSF didn't build it for technology's sake. NSF has a distinct business motive for building its intranet, Inside NSF.

"NSF has about 400 managers who run each foundation program:' said Frederic J. Wendling, director of NSF's Division of Information Systems.

"About half of these managers are scientists who come to NSF for about a year or two to manage the program and then go back to their universities. Because of this structure, the agency has a early turnover rate of about 20 to 30 percent" he said. By providing basic financial, research and human resources information-and even tips for getting around the Washington area-the intranet helps NSF manage the turnover, Wendling said.

Federal agencies have been slower than the corporate world in catching on to the intranet boomlet. But now the NSF and the Interior and Veterans Affairs departments are leading the way.

Effective support

"The goal of an intranet is to give your employees the information they need to do their jobs more effectively:' said Elizabeth VanderPutten, chief of the systems and services branch at NSF's Division of Administrative Services.

"We're not finished by
any means," says

NSF employees access Inside NSF from the Communications option on the agency's standard PC menu. Users may opt for Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator or the NCSA Mosaic Web browser. Communications also provides a, link to Intemet-resident applications that build a personal home page.

Inside NSF runs on a Sun Microsystems Inc. Sparc station 20 server with 32M of

  IRAM and a 4G hard drive. The server's operating system is SunOS 4.1.3.

Security is multifaceted: -NSF uses the features of Netscape's Commerce Server to restrict access to client machines in the nsf gov domain. It allows access only to unclassified material and considers host security-using one-time passwords, running security scripts and closely monitoring trouble-prone applications such as Sendmail.

As an added safeguard for Inside NSF and its external Web page, NSF is installing an Internet firewall.

Here are some Inside NSF highlights:

  • Telephone directory. The directory posts numbers by name and organization, and includes e-mail addresses. NSF's external home page is automatically updated with directory data from Inside NSF.
  • Yellow pages. A list of ways to access practical office and administrative information, the yellow pages instructs on matters such as getting furniture repaired.
  • Human resources. This page includes personnel information, job postings, administrative rules and regulations, and even the employee newsletter. The NSF's training catalog also is posted on this page.
  • Library. The library page offers a broad range of services. Its Search the Web feature provides access to most commercial search tools such as Yahoo, Lycos and Magellan. A feature called Search this Site includes an alphabetical index that employees use to search for relevant scientific topics. Another, Science by Subject, is a collection of numerous links to science databases on the Web. Users also can access 20 CD-ROM titles.

"We feel we're just beginning here," Vander Putten said. "We're not finished by any means. 'The next stage is to start people performing transactions on the intranet, like personnel actions requests and requests for services from the Division of Administrative Services and the Division of Information Systems. "