A new policy that may keep used military computers out of schools could hamper technology in some of the nation’s poorest classrooms and force schools to find additional funding for computers.

Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon issued a memo Jan. 8 directing all military agencies to destroy all hard drives and processors on computers they are no longer using, including computers that had not been used for classified work.

Since 1992, the department had required only computers that dealt with classified information to be destroyed. Hard drives on computers that dealt with unclassified information were supposed to be wiped clean and donated to schools through the federal government’s “Computers for Learning” program.

Each year since 1994, Utah’s Hill Air Force Base has donated $5 million worth of computers to schools in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and Nevada, said Brenda Snyder, the alternative equipment officer.

Snyder said the new memo makes all computers that were to be donated this year worthless to schools because she must remove and destroy all hard drives, cables, and processors.

The base will continue donating monitors and printers to schools, Snyder said.

The new policy is overkill, said a spokesman for Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah.

“We see this as a typical federal government overreaction to deal with a real problem of security lapses,” said Bill Johnson, Hansen’s spokesman.

Johnson said this policy will hurt the federal Computers for Learning program. “It [Computers for Learning] has benefitted the public by donating millions of dollars of computers to schools nationwide,” he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he supports the new policy and does not believe the Computers for Learning program will suffer.

“I am encouraging the Department of Defense to continue looking for a reliable way to erase sensitive information from computers. But until the Pentagon can find one, I must support the decision to destroy hard drives before computers are given away to school districts as a responsible one,” Hatch said.

Susan Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department, said the department’s audit revealed that in some instances “sensitive information, such as lists of people’s names and their addresses,” had been left on hard drives of donated computers.

“Even unclassified defense information can be a serious risk if it is accidentally left on computers and somehow gets into the wrong hands,” Hatch said.

Susan Hansen, wife of Rep. Jim Hansen, said the Defense Department last year donated more than 74,000 pieces of computer equipment—totalling nearly $60 million—to schools nationwide.

Johnson said Rep. Hansen plans to “dig in and ask questions why they want to destroy perfectly good functioning computers” instead of donating the computers that did not handle anything more classified “than love eMails to wives.”

Clearfield High School, which is part of Utah’s Davis County School District, has 40 computers from Hill Air Force Base, and all the hard drives were wiped clean when the school received them, said Casey Brown, the school’s technology specialist.

Robin Marble, K-3 resource teacher for the district’s Hill Field Elementary School, said out of the 35 computers the school received in November and December, three of them still had some information on them “that was totally useless to us. I just reformatted them. We needed the computers.”

Marble said the donated computers run slower than the current models on the market, but much faster than the ones the school had before, and they are compatible with programs the students need now. The school’s old computers could not run the new educational programs.

Besides donating the computers, the base also donated the monitors and the Windows 95 license so the school could use the programs, Marble said.

Links:

Computers for Learning
http://www.computers.fed.gov

Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah
http://www.house.gov/hansen

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
http://www.senate.gov/~hatch

Department of Defense
http://www.defenselink.mil

Clearfield High School
http://www.davis.k12.ut.us/chs

Hill Field Elementary School
http://www.davis.k12.ut.us/hillfield