IT could play big at security office

Hart-Rudman Commission report

The Office for Homeland Security, which President Bush announced last week in his speech to a joint session of Congress, could rely heavily on information technology to maintain domestic security, according to federal IT experts.

Bush's choice to head the office, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, has led efforts to use IT in state government so he is expected to tap technology to support the office's mission, said Steve Rohleder, managing partner of Accenture's U.S. government practice.

"I think that's one reason the president chose him for that role," Rohleder said. "It's recognition that technology is going to play a major role in the mission they are undertaking and to meet their objectives."

For months, Rohleder has worked with lawmakers to establish a central office for coordinating domestic security. In March, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) introduced the National Homeland Security Agency Act, which would put the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of a new agency comprising the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Coast Guard, the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office and the National Infrastructure Protection Center.

Responsibility for protecting the United States against terrorism is spread across military, law enforcement, intelligence, emergency response and other agencies at the federal, state and local levels. Two independent commissions and the General Accounting Office have issued reports in the past two years calling for greater coordination among the multiple players and for the creation of a single office or agency to lead the efforts.

Until the Sept. 11 attacks, those reports were "voices in the wilderness for the most part," said Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, at a Sept. 21 hearing.

Congress must work closely with the administration and Ridge to work out the details of the office's responsibilities, authority and budget, said David Walker, U.S. comptroller general.

Dan Caterinicchia contributed to this article.

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