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Information Technology at the National Assembly
At the end of the 1980s, the National Assembly set up a single computer department which was given the name “Information Systems Department” in 1998 and placed under the responsibility of the two secretaries general. It is in charge of managing the computer equipment of the institutional bodies of the National Assembly and its administration (excluding that of the political groups).
This department, in collaboration with the other departments of the National Assembly, is currently involved in the drawing-up, under the authority of the Delegation of the Bureau in Charge of Information and New Technologies, the main guidelines concerning information systems for the period 2009-2012. It will subsequently be tasked with implementing these guidelines and with their development according to the wishes of the Delegation and the needs of M.P.s and departments.
It may however, when necessary, call upon external assistance, particularly when specific requirements in the field of expertise and development are needed (audits, advice, the conception and creation of new applications) or maintenance required.
I. – THE GENERAL ORGANIZATION OF THE INFORMATION SYSTEMS DEPARTMENT
The Information Systems Department is in charge of the research, the conception, the carrying-out, the setting-up, the management and the upkeep of all applications for the entire National Assembly. It also deals with the installation and the maintenance of hardware. In addition, it is responsible for the running of the production centre and the management of the computer network. In collaboration with the Human Resources Department, it also trains users in the skills needed to work with computers.
It is made up of fifty people, three quarters of whom are computer engineers and technicians who are recruited by internal or external examination for the following four units:
- The “Management” Unit which deals with budgetary and accountancy questions, with the preparation and follow-up to tenders and with every type of legal issue;
- The “Applications” Unit which deals with researching and developing the information system and with the correct operation of the applications used (maintenance and assistance);
- The “Production” Unit which deals with running the central systems as well as the internal and external networks;
- The “User-Support” Unit which deals with answering user requests for assistance by calling upon external service-providers, with the management and the maintenance of the micro-computer network, and with the technical assistance and organization of computer-based training periods.
II. – THE APPLICATIONS
The Information Systems Department manages and maintains over 70 applications, some of which are specific to the National Assembly on account of its double task of legislating and monitoring Government action.
1. – Legislatives and documentary applications
The main applications are the following:
― The electronic voting system
The electronic voting system means that the results of public ballots which take place in the Chamber may be known and published in real time. It has been adapted so as to enable votes outside the Chamber using several ballot boxes.
― The Legis database
This application is used to follow, by means of legislative files, the successive steps in the examination of Government and Members' bills, from their being tabled in the National Assembly or the Senate to their publication in the Journal Officiel. The Legis database contains all the procedural information, as well as an indexed summary of the content of the Government or Members' bill. This software, which is at the very heart of the legislative application programme, was developed in 2004 and 2005. It allows for the coordination of work between various legislative departments and controls the productions of numerous publications for internal use and for the Journal Officiel. The data contained on this database feed into the National Assembly internet site.
― The Questions database
Since 2008, M.P.s and political groups can table and manage all questions to the Government on-line. In addition, this application allows the departments of the National Assembly to deal with these questions and to transmit them in electronic form to the Journal Officiel for publication or to collect the answers from ministers. The questions and answers may be consulted by the general public on the National Assembly internet site.
― The Tribun database
This application is used to manage information concerning M.P.s’ elective offices and their membership of the various bodies in the National Assembly. The database also contains information concerning Senators transmitted by the Senate. Data from this database may be consulted on internet.
― The Individual Files database
This application is used to provide, on the one hand, a description of the events which take place during the plenary sitting and on the other hand, an automated edition of the debate schedules of the National Assembly. A new application will be implemented at the end of 2009 which will generate individual files more automatically. This application will use information provided by the legislative applications.
― The Library Application
Beginning in 1992, the library has had a computerized list of all the works acquired since that date (fifteen thousand files per year). The indexing is carried out by using the Bibliothèque Nationale’s (France’s National Library) “Rameau” thesaurus which is also used by the National Foundation for Political Sciences. A new application will be implemented in late 2009 to make works easier to find. It is also designed to facilitate and create more secure access, via internet, to the catalogue and enable reservations of works to be made on-line.
― The “ Eurodoc” Application
This application is used in the European Affairs Department to manage the documentation of the various European institutions. It may be consulted on intranet or on internet. It will be replaced by the end of 2010.
The National Assembly also possesses applications which enable the processing, management and transmission of legislative documents. These applications mainly concern:
― The processing and the transmission of the verbatim official report
The processing and transmission application for the official report, has enabled, since 2004, for the official report of the debates (“white book”) and 2005, for the supplement of articles, amendments and annexes (“blue book”) their composition, secure electronic transmission to the Journal Officiel for publication and their consultation on-line on the internet site of the National Assembly, in a 6-hour period after the sitting.
― The drawing-up, processing and transmission of amendments
As of 2010, a new application named ELOI, will allow amendments to be processed on-line by M.P.s both for debates in committee and for the plenary sitting. This application will manage the whole life-cycle of an amendment right up to its final inclusion and its publication on internet.
The digitized amendments thus are part of the drawing-up of the “petite loi” (“little law”) and the drafting of the verbatim official report.
2. – Management applications
Most of the management applications (accountancy, salaries, pensions, social security etc.), which were first introduced in the early 1990s were replaced between 2001 and 2005 to fulfil the new needs of the users. The accountancy, salary and human resource systems now rely on a single piece of integrated, management software. The social security management system of the National Assembly has been outsourced to a service-provider.
So as to facilitate and improve access to the various buildings of the National Assembly, a “hands-free” identity pass management system was introduced in 2003.
An integrated directory was set up to facilitate the management of all the personal files on the information system (administrative management of personnel, identity passes, telephone numbers etc.) and to manage the verification of access to the applications and systems.
A set of applications has been introduced for the management of the plans of the buildings of the National Assembly and the pinpointing of the equipment on these plans, as well as for helping in the conception of building work (electrical work etc.). A new application will, as of 2010, deal with the management of the up-keep of such equipment.
A pilot scheme for the electronic management of documents is being applied in the Information Systems Department. Ultimately this type of application should be used on a wider scale within departments.
The management of the amount of printing is also evolving quickly: following the modernization and reorganization of the print workshops and the rapid development of small multi-functional printers, a system for the optimization of printing will be introduced in 2010.
Other management applications have been implemented to cater for the specific needs of particular departments: stock management, restaurant management, applications for the Transport Department when dealing with issuing transport tickets, or with coordinating car transportation in Paris and in the suburbs etc.
3. – The portals
― M.P.s’ Portal
A new portal has been made available to M.P.s as of the XIIIth term of Parliament. It is accessible from their computers at the National Assembly and from all computers connected to the internet network (constituency, office etc.) and provides simplified and secure access to different applications and services gathered together in a “virtual office”:
• The personal e-mail of the M.P. and his time-table which can be shared with any of his assistants he chooses (it is possible to synchronize this time-table with certain smart phones through mobile telephone operator networks) ;
• The “tabling questions” application;
• Site 577, the information and communication portal for M.P.s;
• The electronic press review;
• Access to Agence France Press wires;
• The library site.
― The Portal of the Departments of the Assembly: WEBAN
The intranet site, “Weban” may be consulted by all members of staff of the National Assembly. It enables the transmission and consultation of a large amount of information concerning the management of the personnel, in-house training, and competitive examinations, as well as practical information of all kinds. Almost all information published internally is nowadays available on-line.
― The Internet Site of the National Assembly
The authorities of the National Assembly decided to open, from the beginning of 1996, the internet site (http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr), which is operated in collaboration with the Communication and Multimedia Information Department.
This site provides the general public with information concerning the organization and running of the National Assembly. It provides access to parliamentary documents and to legislative files as well as to the live broadcasting of the plenary sitting.
In 2009, the internet site was enhanced with new video services both live and upon request. This was aimed at transmitting the parliamentary work of the National Assembly to an even broader audience.
III. – HARDWARE AND TECHNICAL INFRASTRUCTURE
1. – M.P.s’ hardware
Each M.P. is provided with standard micro-computer hardware in his office at the National Assembly. This consists of two micro computers set up with free software (Linux for the operating system and Open Office for the office suite).
All the computers have a secure access to the internet and to a private internal network which provides the possibility of using different information applications. Assistance, maintenance and the necessary training are all provided by the Information Systems Department.
In addition, each M.P. receives a long-term computer allowance for his personal constituency secretariat (hardware, software, maintenance, training etc.). This allowance is allocated for the length of the term of office and is managed by the Purchasing and Material Means Department. The M.P.s are entirely free to choose the computer equipment and supplier they wish.
2. – The hardware of political groups at the National Assembly
The secretariats of political groups at the National Assembly are allocated a specific allowance whose total amount is set for the entire Parliament according to the number of M.P.s the group actually has.
The political groups may decide upon their computer hardware policy with the advice, if they so wish, of the relevant departments of the National Assembly. Assistance, maintenance and training services concerning the hardware and software of the political groups are not carried out by the Information Systems Department. However requests for access to broadband services may be met via the National Assembly’s network.
3. – Department hardware
Having an office automation policy has enabled the standardization of the hardware of each department. Its aim is to simplify hardware management and to provide uniform hardware which uses the same software suites. This hardware is renewed every five years.
At the present the network includes around 1,300 microcomputers.
4. – The network and security
The computer network of the National Assembly, which was previously organized in a star topology, will move to a mesh structure during 2009/10. This will complete the work which has been carried out since 2002 i.e. the setting-up of a second computer room as well as the phasing-out of obsolete applications and hardware.
Although today all offices and meeting rooms are equipped with network access sockets, a new campaign is underway to install hotspots (wifi access) in the meeting rooms and certain common areas so as to provide access to internet.
Connections to internet are also carried out via two specialized lines operated by two different access-providers. The growth in usage has required an increase in the network capacity.
The electronic voting system in the Chamber is now linked to the Ballot Management Department and, for the recording of proxy votes, to the secretariats of the political groups. The voting system was also made secure in 2003 and 2005. It now has its own network which is independent of the general network.