DHS architecture: It's a wrap

Homeland Security Department officials did the impossible: created the first draft of an enterprise architecture in less than four months.

The feat was "unique in the federal government," said DHS chief information officer Steve Cooper, and now officials will use the framework to guide system development and consolidation efforts.

The architecture, developed with Science Applications International Corp., will be followed in coming years by updated versions of the architecture that will have greater detail, Cooper told lawmakers last week.

But this first take will help DHS officials with ongoing effort to build a departmentwide infrastructure. "We are already beginning to implement the objectives of our [enterprise architecture] transitional strategy," Cooper said.

The architecture has allowed officials to identify the projects inherited when the department merged 22 agencies. Officials can then look for areas of possible consolidation. For example, the department has identified 300 applications for performing back-office functions. The agency will now begin eliminating stand-alone and redundant applications and begin standardizing across the organization, Cooper said.

The overriding principal, he said, was to simplify. "We can begin to move from many — in this case, 300 — down to some sizable number," Cooper said, testifying before the House Government Reform Committee's Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Subcommittee.

The current architecture lacks depth, Cooper told lawmakers, but agency officials have already started working on the second version to fill in the gaps and detail more systems and projects.

Cooper said the current version is "an inch deep and a mile wide," working down from the overall mission of the department.

Agency officials have also identified about a dozen projects, so-called quick hits, that they have already started to consolidate, such as e-training and network integration.

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), the subcommittee's ranking minority member, said the massive document did not address cultural issues that would enable data sharing among agencies.

He questioned Cooper on how the architecture might deal with that.

"The enterprise architecture is actually an objective way of taking the emotional element out," Cooper said. "The enterprise architecture, being devoid of emotion, actually can objectively document...where we are trying to automate or improve. We don't eliminate or negate culture, but we allow all of us to have a common frame of reference."

DHS' architecture is aligned with the federal enterprise architecture, which provides guidance to all agencies for developing their architectures. The Office of Management and Budget, which spearheads the federal effort, will work closely with DHS to ensure it follows the architecture, said Karen Evans, administrator of OMB's office of E-Government and Information Technology.

"It is the intention of OMB through budget guidance to align their efforts" with the federal enterprise architecture, Evans told lawmakers at the hearing.

Felix Rausch, executive director of the Federal Enterprise Architecture Certification Institute, said designing the initial architecture was an enormous task, but if the time and money is spent on the process upfront, the department will be able to make faster and more reliable IT investments. DHS' efforts with the architecture, he said, will be continuing.

"Enterprise architecture is something that needs to be an ongoing thing," Rausch said. "It's not something you do once and then you go and finish it. It's a continuum of reassessing and re-evaluating."

***

DHS' enterprise architecture

In developing the Homeland Security Department's tech framework, chief information officer Steve Cooper and other officials identified many areas for possible consolidation.

Here's what they found:

* More than 1,000 servers and 1,000 telecommunications circuits.

* 14 initiatives that support credentialing activities.

* At least 8 initiatives that support port-of-entry management.

* More than 300 applications for back-office functions, such as budgeting, financial management, recruiting and human resources management.

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