IT vital to defense

Brookings Institution report

The Bush administration is headed in the right direction with its homeland security budget, but in the absence of a national strategy, the ways that information technology can help have not been realized, according to a report released April 29 by the Brookings Institution.

The administration does not plan to make its homeland security national strategy public until July, and without it, there are too many opportunities for gaps in applying resources, said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee's Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, speaking at a panel discussion in connection with the Brookings report's release.

The report, "Protecting the American Homeland: A Preliminary Analysis," is Brookings' proposal for creating a comprehensive national strategy as soon as possible.

"We need a strategy and we need it now," Harman said.

The report outlines proposals in four areas: border security, domestic prevention, site defense and contingency planning.

Information technology can be used in each area to take advantage of knowledge and information across the many organizations and agencies involved, said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in the Brookings Foreign Policy Studies group, which worked on the report.

Without a national strategy, it would be a shot in the dark to project a homeland security IT budget. Organizational issues will have a significant effect on what initiatives really need to be funded, said Ivo Daalder, another senior fellow in the group. When agencies and functions are consolidated — as has been suggested in the report and by several pieces of legislation — technology needs will change, particularly when it comes to information-sharing systems, Daalder said.

In several cases, the Brookings report recommends more money for IT projects than is included in the administration's fiscal 2003 budget.

Key among these is the proposed entry/exit visa tracking system, for which the administration requested $380 million for fiscal 2003.

Brookings believes several billion dollars are necessary for investments in the system at the federal, state and local levels.

"When you modernize a large national information technology system you often have to spend a few billion dollars to get it right," O'Hanlon said. "What we're seeing so far out of the Bush budget is a total of $700 million in the 2003 proposal for all information technology efforts across the entire country, preventive as well as defensive or protective. This is simply not enough effort."

IT can play the largest role in information-sharing systems, but it also is a critical tool for streamlining every program and making each more efficient, O'Hanlon added.

This includes efforts such as inspecting cargo ships, where IT can be used to provide a central system for ports and personnel dispersed throughout the United States, he said.

An inspection system would take a two-pronged approach, he said.

First, efforts should be made to combine IT with international cooperation when inspecting goods and monitoring ship loading at foreign ports — before the ships even enter U.S. waters.

"Coast Guard and [the Customs Service] should be more in the business of spot checking, of creating databases so we know who's cooperating and who's not, making sure we inspect those who are not cooperating or potentially even turn them away from doing business with our ports," O'Hanlon said.

Technology can also play a crucial role in verifying identity, especially through the use of smart cards and biometric technology, but only if there is sufficient security in the application process to guarantee that the wrong people are not authorized, Harman said.

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Expanding homeland security spending

A Brookings Institution report estimates that even if the Bush administration spends its entire $38 billion homeland security budget for fiscal 2003, between $5 billion and $10 billion in additional federal spending — and up to $10 billion in private-sector spending — would still be needed each year to ensure the nation's security.

Some of the information technology projects proposed in the report and their estimated costs include:

* Real-time tracking of cargo containers — $5 billion.

* An integrated database to connect the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and private shipping companies — $1 billion.

* New IT architecture and IT management initiatives at INS — $1 billion.

* A national identity card program, including biometric identifiers and database — $10 billion.

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