Stories of 9/11: A conference table, a sheet of paper and TSA

Six federal officials sat at a conference table on a chilly Tuesday in January 2002. They had the new Transportation Security Administration literally in their hands: The crucial agency was only a diagram on a sheet of paper.

They were drafting a plan for a massive agency that would be responsible for protecting U.S. transportation, with a special interest in securing airports and preventing a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings. To say the least, it was a daunting assignment for those six officials to create such a vital agency so quickly.

“We were looking at each other asking, “OK, now what do we do?’” said Patrick Schambach, one of the six and the first associate undersecretary for IT and CIO at TSA.

In November 2001, TSA was created by an act of Congress. John Magaw was nominated in December to be the agency’s first administrator, and Schambach came on board in January. Congress didn’t give officials a lot of time to construct TSA, which also left little time for long debates around the table.

Magaw said he had hired the best people he knew to put TSA together, and now their job was to hire the best people they knew to get TSA running. That Tuesday in January, the six officials agreed to come back Thursday with progress reports.

Schambach was astonished to find that all 20 people on his list of experts in government and industry had agreed to work for him at TSA. Even so, he had a problem. He didn’t have job titles for his potential employees. He didn’t know how they would apply for the jobs or how they would get the necessary security clearances. He wasn’t even sure which programs managers would be in charge of whom. Given the urgency of the situation, he decided that TSA would deal with the details later.

“We were, frankly, flying by the seat of our pants,” said Schambach, who is now vice president and general manager of CSC’s Homeland Security Department business area.

Fortunately for the six officials at that table in 2002, Congress gave them plenty on which to focus: 32 mandates, including carrying out security checks and hiring people to screen baggage, that had to be accomplished within 12 months.

“I think back and say, ‘Thank God they did that because we had to get moving,’” he said.

Schambach said his challenge was getting a huge IT infrastructure in place when his office only had 150 people. His solution was IT Managed Services, a billion-dollar network support contract awarded to Unisys in 2002.

The idea of managed services — in which an agency pays a contractor to provide IT services rather than deliver specific products — was relatively new at the time, and ITMS was the largest project of its kind.

"The best thing was that I had no legacy systems I was chained with," Schambach said, but "the bad thing was I had no legacy systems. We had to build from scratch."

Read more of Remembering Sept. 11: Disaster and response.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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