A search for solutions

To bolster homeland security, a groundswell has formed in the nation's

capital to spend large sums of money on information technology. That raises

several serious issues.

But equally important as the funding is the strong political will that

has mounted behind many of these initiatives. Often, will is a far more

precious commodity in Washington, D.C., than money. Large supplies of it

will be crucial if agencies are to buck a tradition in which cooperation

has been lacking and instead begin to share information and resources using

the kinds of technologies discussed in this special report.

Before giving in to the impulse to throw money at the problem, we should examine the implications of doing so. In the eyes of Faisal Hoque, chief executive officer of Enamics Inc. -- a company that helps organizations align their technology investments with their

business objectives -- the government faces a situation similar to the one businesses confronted during the dot-com craze a couple of years ago.

At that time, business leaders felt great pressure to join the so-called

New Economy, and the price of admission was mastery of new technologies

that promised to innovate their businesses. However, without a road map

showing how these technologies would align with — or against — corporate

strategy, the results were predictably mixed, according to Hoque.

Now the stakes are dramatically higher as the government seeks to adopt

technologies that can help it wage a more effective fight against terrorism.

But absent a clear understanding of what information is needed for this

mission, where some information might already exist and how to facilitate

true cross-agency collaboration, the government can expect mixed results

from technology investments, at a potentially perilous cost.

The new federal Office of Homeland Security could be the key. The office

doesn't need to supply the money or the people to deploy agency systems

or to micromanage them. Instead, it needs to provide a unified vision of

how the parts can work together without unnecessary duplication. The office

should be given the clout and resources to do this important job.

The office also can help with other difficult issues. Among the technologies

proposed for possible roles in homeland security are several that have drawn

the attention of privacy advocates. National identification cards, expanded

use of Internet wiretaps and facial-recognition scanners installed at airports

are just some recent ideas that have privacy implications.

The Office of Homeland Security may be able to help inform a much broader

discussion by presenting information and proposals for debate so acceptable

choices can be made.

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