Tech programs put on fast track

Several agencies are accelerating the development of information technology systems and programs that could support the war on terrorism through better information sharing and management.

For example, the FBI's lead role in investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has placed the bureau's modernization program, Trilogy, at the top of the priority list. Trilogy will upgrade the FBI's information infrastructure, providing the basis for future technology enhancements.

The program will give FBI employees high-speed network connections, easier access to investigative information from across the department, and software for organizing and analyzing information.

Shortly after Sept. 11, the Trilogy program office re.ceived an undisclosed sum of money to accelerate the development of Trilogy. Now, the FBI plans to have the system operational by December 2002, said Mark Tanner, the FBI's information resources manager.

A State Department system that would help federal employees share more information more easily was already on a fast track, but recent events have given the system new prominence within the department, said Fernando Burbano, State's chief information officer.

The Overseas Presence Collaboration Zone Knowledge Management System will bring together almost 40 agencies with overseas staff onto a single network so employees can share information in real time.

The system, developed in response to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, groups users into communities of interest, such as trade, human rights, and law and drug enforcement. But Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, is especially interested in the crisis coordination grouping and is looking to the system as a possible solution for overall homeland security information sharing needs, Burbano said.

State officials plan to complete a system prototype this month and start a pilot program shortly afterward with more than 2,400 employees from different agencies located in Mexico, India and the United States, Burbano said.

The Bush administration's effort to reprioritize the development of these systems is crucial because it allows agencies to highlight systems that do not have to compete with other information systems during the funding process, said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. But agencies should be careful not to move too quickly in developing systems for homeland security, he added.

"There's the right amount of time it takes to do something, and throwing lots of people and money at a project to make it go faster isn't always the answer," Mather said.

Other federal systems that may not be as high profile but that can also support the homeland security effort should get more attention as well, said Doug Naquin, deputy CIO at the CIA.

Since Sept. 11, CIA and FBI officials have talked many times about how they can use existing technology to work more closely together, Naquin said. And they have made more progress on IT collaboration projects at the agency in the last few weeks than there had been the previous two years.

The Secret Service is also pushing ahead with projects started before Sept. 11, especially in the information security arena, said Stephen Colo, the agency's deputy assistant director and CIO.

The agency had been "dabbling" in biometrics for some time, but now the Secret Service is "very interested" and is looking for solutions from all areas of industry, Colo said.

The Secret Service is also the lead for the Treasury Department's public-key infrastructure program, using digital signatures on smart cards to provide cyber and physical authentication and authorization. The program is now getting even more attention, and officials are pushing for solutions because PKI is the security foundation upon which all applications must be built, Colo said.

Such systems include the Customs Service's Automated Commercial Environment, which will improve the agency's ability to track imports. The system is part of Customs' $1.3 billion modernization program. After Sept. 11, Customs officials sped up parts of the modernization, said Harry Sundberg, the project executive for the lead contractor, IBM Global Services.

Sundberg said services such as identifying contraband and potential threats would be "more to the forefront."

Customs officials could not be reached for comment.

Speeding up

Some key IT programs that agencies have begun to develop faster to support homeland security efforts:

* Trilogy. The FBI's modernization program will upgrade the agency's entire information infrastructure, including the network, desktop hardware and software, and applications.

* Automated Commercial Environment. This Web-based system, designed to track imports, will make it easier for the Customs Service to find certain patterns in import activities that may indicate criminal activity.

* Overseas Presence Collaboration Zone Knowledge Management System. Led by the State Department, this program will provide a collaborative network so that the almost 40 agencies with overseas officers can share information.

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