A nation, united

This space was supposed to be devoted to an editorial about financial management systems' role in straightening out the accounting mess at federal agencies. But in light of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., financial problems seem much less important. The attacks that killed thousands and the pain that their families now endure understandably relegated most information technology issues to the back burner.

But IT, and especially those who manage and develop it, will play a pivotal role in the days and weeks ahead, supporting any military response President Bush decides to take and helping law enforcement agencies track down the perpetrators. One example is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Genoa project, which helps intelligence and law enforcement agencies share information that can be used to thwart terrorist attacks or help organize a response to an attack.

IT also will most likely play a role in tightening security at airports. Vendors are developing technologies such as facial-recognition tools and the ability to control airliners from the ground. Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, called for agencies to increase their attention to protecting critical infrastructures as part of Presidential Decision Directive 63, which called on agencies to develop plans to protect such resources as mission-critical computer systems.

The attacks also may infuse life into ideas such as the National Fusion Center, an intragovernmental group proposed by the Joint Forces Command that would act as a knowledge manager in time of war. The center would collect data from military and civilian agencies in order to defeat an enemy.

Of course, technology is only a tool that will help fight terrorism. Government officials, military and civilian, are the real heroes here — the ones behind the technology, and those who rarely touch a keyboard but depend on the systems nonetheless. Many risk their lives every day, and in the weeks and months ahead, that risk will only escalate. Their dedication and talent will be the keys to success.

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