When state or local governments purchase new computers, disposing of them is often the last thing considered. When the equipment becomes outdated, however, discarding old PCs, printers and peripherals becomes a significant and potentially costly concern.

San Diego County, Calif., found a way to dispose of PCs once they're retired from county and city service, and at the same time, aid community groups and stimulate use of e-government services.

In 1999, San Diego County outsourced its IT and telecom services. The county's RFP asked vendors to bid on providing PC and telecom services, and also to consider how they could go above and beyond those services.

More precisely, how could they help the county dispose of used computers and give something back to the community?

One group of companies -- including Computer Sciences Corp., Science Applications International Corp., SBC and Avaya -- formed a bidding consortium called The Pennant Alliance. The alliance submitted a bid to provide county IT services and formed a strategy to solve San Diego's PC disposal request.

The county planned to put the majority of its services online as part of an e-government initiative, but doing so meant ensuring constituents would have adequate access to those services.

The alliance proposed creating the San Diego Futures Foundation, an organization that would remove city and county computers, refurbish them and donate them to nonprofit and educational institutions, thereby helping those who might not have access to a computer learn technology skills.

The county accepted the bid, and the San Diego Futures Foundation was built into the IT and telecom services contract.

Building a Community

San Diego County is on a three-year PC refresh cycle. When computers hit the three-year mark, they're shipped to the San Diego Futures Foundation, which manages the reservicing and deployment of PCs to nonprofit organizations, schools and programs that help low-income or underserved community members.

In the four years since the foundation was formed, it has donated approximately 7,000 computers and about 12,000 hours of technical support to the San Diego community. Though most PCs have gone to nonprofit organizations, the Futures Foundation also works with the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association -- a national organization with an active education committee in San Diego -- to refurbish and install used computers in schools.

"It's a great model for state and local governments," said Karen Bruett, director of Dell's Public Sector Education and Community Initiatives, which was created a year ago to support the San Diego Futures Foundation, and help other state and local governments form community programs to repurpose technology. "Rather than throwing away their PCs, they are giving them to those who need them most."

Since its launch, the Futures Foundation has expanded to run a tech center in San Diego's inner-city area. The organization works with the San Diego State University Foundation to train students from community colleges, vocational schools and urban high schools to refurbish the PCs.

"It's a way to really get them involved not only in learning about IT and getting some good hands-on experience, but getting them involved in the community as well," said Becky Stawiski, the San Diego Futures Foundation's executive director.

The Futures Foundation also initiated other community programs, including the SDcommunities Web portal. The portal, which includes more than 99 communities, gives citizens an opportunity to participate in local issues electronically.

"You can go to SDcommunities and get all the resources in your community," said Stawiski. "People can post community collaborative meeting minutes, post information about their organization, highlight their organization or things going on, etc."

Stawiski said Microsoft just completed an internal case study of SDcommunities, because the company

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer