DOJ plans to share data agencywide

Justice Department leaders last month said they plan to pursue a massive information technology project that will allow employees across DOJ bureaus to more easily share data including everything from e-mail and payroll information to data on high-profile crimes.

The project called the Information Sharing Initiative primarily will involve the FBI which disseminates information to its offices nationwide and to other DOJ bureaus such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration according to a DOJ IT official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The project which is slated to cost $430 million over five years will allow bureaus to share digital fingerprints electronic maps and charts and detailed financial information that employees share as they investigate crimes develop agency policies and carry out the daily administration of DOJ.

Managing the mix of information which will run from the mundane to the highly classified is expected to be DOJ's biggest challenge. "We want to be able to share the information but we want to be able to keep the information [secure] " the DOJ source said. "We want to be able to get to information quickly [from] all over the country."

Mark Boster deputy chief information officer at DOJ last month presented the Information Sharing Initiative to a gathering of IT industry representatives. "Until we get everyone on a common network we have no prayer of exchanging information " Boster told attendees at a breakfast event sponsored by Federal Sources Inc. a government procurement consulting firm in McLean Va.

Boster pegged the project at $225 million. And the project which might begin as early as fiscal 1999 has not yet received approval from the Office of Management and Budget or Congress said a DOJ source familiar with the project. "This is not something that's written in stone " the source said. "It's dependent on whether OMB and Congress fund this project."

In the past DOJ bureaus have not shared information because bureaus have fiercely guarded data and documents. In addition much of DOJ's information resides on mainframes and is not readily accessible to those who might need it. But this decade DOJ has begun a number of projects that should improve information sharing among bureaus. The $500 million Justice Consolidated Office Network will put in place communication lines hardware and software that will tie DOJ operations onto a network that will give bureaus more access to information.

The need for a common operating system was apparent in August when Attorney General Janet Reno tried to send an e-mail to more than 73 000 DOJ employees. The task sounded simple but proved a challenge because of the different platforms DOJ uses for communications Boster said. The Intranet Option To meet the initiative's requirements DOJ is considering an intranet which would cost tens of millions of dollars in hardware software training and maintenance.

"It would seem to me that that would be the easiest way to approach it " said Hank Philcox the CIO at DynCorp one of the contractors for DOJ's Information Technology Support Services contract which supplies governmentwide IT products and services.

The intranet which uses technology like that used for World Wide Web browsing can be accessed through the Web or it can be constructed as a stand-alone network. "The nice part about Web technology is that it doesn't matter what workstation platform a particular agency is working on " said Philcox who also served as CIO of the Internal Revenue Service.

DOJ already uses an extranet which is similar to an intranet but includes more than one organization and can send information such as task orders to vendors such as DynCorp Philcox said. "It's relatively secure " he said. "We've got it fully surrounded with [Microsoft Corp.'s Windows] NT security." Shereen Remez assistant CIO for planning and IT architecture at the General Services Administration said her agency is already using a secured intranet to share information. "As we increase our ability to share information it increases security [concerns] " Remez said. "The challenge is to keep it open but at the same time securely access the information we need to access."

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