IT freeze no hindrance so far

Federal agencies slated to become part of the proposed Homeland Security Department have felt few ill effects from the Bush administration's freeze on information technology investments.

But that could change when officials begin reviewing more complex, mission-critical systems, officials told a House subcommittee Oct. 1.

So far, the organization responsible for reviewing IT projects has completed only three reviews — emergency requests for infrastructure purchases at the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard, and a standard request for knowledge management technology at the Secret Service.

But the next round of reviews likely will be larger and will focus on more complex issues, said Mark Forman, associate director for IT and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget.

OMB issued two memos in July that put new investments in infrastructure and management systems at the affected agencies on hold pending reviews by the newly formed Homeland Security IT Investment Review Group. The group is led by OMB and the Office of Homeland Security and composed of chief information officers from the agencies involved.

Representatives from the affected agencies, the General Accounting Office and the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) agreed that the freeze was necessary to ensure that the proposed department's IT systems are deployed in the most efficient way to support the organization's new mission. The officials testified Oct. 1 before the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee.

"We see this initiative as critically important and a necessary first step to ensure effective information sharing, careful analysis of current systems and eventual integration of systems for agencies moving under the proposed department," said Woody Hall, CIO at the Customs Service.

The next round of reviews will examine the larger consolidation issues necessary for the Homeland Security Department to operate on its first day and during its first year, Forman said.

"It is from this type of review that we expect the group to provide most of their recommendations regarding consolidation, integration and elimination of siloed or redundant IT investments," he said.

Some agency infrastructure investments are still on hold pending further planning and review. Customs was ready to deploy a new agencywide e-mail system when the administration released its proposal for the Homeland Security Department. The planned e-mail system does not match those used by other agencies expected to become part of the proposed department, and Customs officials are now revising the contract, Hall said.

Basic IT infrastructure decisions are important, which is exactly why high-level reviews are needed, said Renny DiPentima, president of consulting and systems integration at SRA International Inc., who testified on behalf of ITAA.

"You're not going to carry out your mission if you don't have the proper infrastructure to do that," he said.

TSA's systems must go through the review process because, at this early point in the agency's development, infrastructure is crucial, according to officials.

TSA officials probably would have moved faster to create an infrastructure if the agency was not slated to go into the proposed department, said TSA CIO Patrick Schambach, but the review and integration processes are necessary for all of the agencies to work together in the future.

TSA has developed "a very basic decision model that is being used to determine sharing opportunities in locations where we have a common presence with both the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service," Schambach said.

Forman praised the TSA model and the collaborative work that agencies are doing before sending their plans to the review group.

Mission-critical systems, such as Customs' multibillion-dollar Automated Commercial Environment, are not included in the freeze. Customs officials are moving forward with ACE to meet the goal of providing initial capabilities to the trade community by February 2003, Hall said.

Despite the system's exemption from the investment freeze, Customs officials are planning to put ACE through the review process anyway.

Other agencies may also decide to submit their mission-critical systems for review so that officials can get the full picture of what is available and avoid duplication in the future.

The administration was right to focus first on infrastructure and business systems, but mission-critical programs will truly test the review process, said Joel Willemssen, managing director for IT issues at GAO.

Success depends on developing an enterprise architecture that lays out what technology is available now, how officials want technology to support the proposed department's mission in the future and the transition plans to reach that goal, Willemssen said. But with reviews still ongoing and OMB officials just beginning to decide how to track the spending and the frozen funds, "at this time it is not possible to assess the full effect of the memos on the affected agencies," he added.

Officials from OMB and the Office of Homeland Security are working on an enterprise architecture for homeland security — both for the proposed department and for national efforts. Congress did not approve the administration's requested funding for this initiative in a supplemental fiscal 2002 bill, but if the money comes through in the fiscal 2003 budget, Forman said the first version of the homeland security enterprise architecture should be released next year in late spring or early summer.

***

System status

Systems affected by the Bush administration's homeland security information technology investment freeze:

Coast Guard: National Distress and Response System Modernization.*

Federal Emergency Management Agency: Personnel Resources Information Systems Mart.

Customs Service: Integrated Network.

Immigration and Naturalization Service: Federal Financial Management System.

Transportation Security Administration: IT Managed Services.*

* Approved after review

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