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Information tech center to put 'Md.' back in name


Like an irradiated grasshopper in a 1950s horror flick, the Maryland Information Technology Center in Rockville mutated two years ago into something called the National Information Technology Center and set out to conquer the world.

Last week, the center's executive committee signaled the beginning of the end of the quasi-public agency's voracious ambitions as it recommended to the center's board that it return to its more modest original name.

The recommended change is part of a restructuring plan designed to salvage something useful out of the ruins of the NITC, which was launched two years ago with the aim of fostering high-technology industry in Maryland. But the state was never satisfied with the results of its $2 million investment.

Last October the state Department of Economic and Employment Development cut its funding of the center to a trickle, forcing the center's board to lay off five of its six employees while it devised a new operating strategy. Michael Walter, the NITC president who pressed to establish a national identity for the center, resigned in January after the state told the board he had to go.

The restructuring plan won the support of DEED Secretary Mark Wasserman, who praised it in a statement for its "clearer focus" on Maryland industry.

Mr. Wasserman said the state had pressed for the name change.

"To be perfectly frank, I was never comfortable with the NITC. It seemed even a bit pretentious and the focus was a bit askew," Mr. Wasserman said.

The plan calls for a slimmed-down center, with only one full-time manager and a small support staff, that would largely exist to do chores assigned by the Governor's Information Technology Board. The ITB, created by Gov. William Donald Schaefer as an advisory body, has been playing an increasingly powerful role in shaping the state's telecommunications policy.

Under the restructuring plan, the technology center would help implement four initiatives launched by the ITB, including a program to develop applications for "distance learning" technology in Maryland schools and businesses.

The other ITB initiatives involve promoting industries' use of electronic communications to improve their operations; creating a consortium to develop health care applications for information technology; and assisting DEED in setting up demonstration projects for the state's information infrastructure.

Mr. Wasserman, who heads the ITB's economic development committee, said the center would have no direct reporting relationship to the board.

The plan also pledges that the center will improve its record of raising funding from nonstate sources. In the past, the center had been able to raise only 25 cents in private funds for each tax dollar, the restructuring plan notes. The executive committee said the board should commit itself to at least 50 percent nonstate funding by July 1.

Mr. Wasserman said DEED did not intend that state contract work would be counted toward the nonstate share of the budget, but would not rule out the possibility.

Paul Schneck, the center's acting chairman, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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