Homeland formula for failure ID'd

The ultimate success or failure of the Homeland Security Department will be determined by the intelligence and information technology plan that's proposed and the person selected to lead that effort, according to a congressional fellow who advises the Executive Office of the President on technology.

Speaking June 11 at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's TechNet International 2002 in Washington, D.C., Eileen Preisser, also director of the Defense Department's Homeland Defense Technology Center, said the key will be getting the new department to organize and share information horizontally, instead of vertically in the usual stovepipes.

"The kicker that will determine if it succeeds or fails is the intelligence and IT plan that's prepared," Preisser told Federal Computer Week. "There has to be a [chief information officer or chief operating officer]-type person to bring together all the disparate capabilities that exist and create a new and exciting virtual information environment that will set the pace for everything else in government.

"If you hire a 65-year-old to do it, it will fail. If you hire former military, it will fail."

Preisser said the government should look to someone with experience in a large industry enterprise effort who understands the mission and the roles that the various agencies should play in the "big picture."

"I would like for that to happen, but I don't see that happening," she said.

Preisser said she fears that the new department will just add more bureaucracy to a system already overloaded with red tape. She added that agencies were just beginning to move "horizontally over the last nine months, and forcing them to go back will be the hardest cultural shift."

An interagency organization can be successful as long as the various parts are united by their mission and outfitted with the "same standard suitcase and equipment, and put in the field together," she said, adding that the interagency operational security (OPSEC) group is a prime example of one that works.

However, the only way the proposed Homeland Security Department can break agency stovepipes will be to cut off the individual budgets and fund everything at the department level, Preisser said. And even with the right IT and funding plan, the basic implementation will take anywhere from 15 years to 25 years, she said.

To get at least the basic foundation done faster than that, DOD officials should be given a mentoring role. Preisser said DOD officials have the necessary experience and should be "highly encouraged" to share what they know.

With that idea in mind, the Missile Defense Agency is developing an architecture for "mission-critical test beds" that will produce a common operational picture for itself and the other players involved in a potential accident or strike involving missiles, such as state and local first responders, utility companies and industry partners, Preisser said.

The test beds are designed to help DOD, aided by its partners, to identify text, voice, video or audio data patterns over time that should not be there. "That is the 'so what' of homeland security," she said, adding that terabytes of data are useless if the user can't pinpoint what they need quickly and act on it.

The architecture for this environment should be complete by July, when a decision is made whether to proceed in Texas or Florida. After that, partners will be selected based partly on geographical location, and by September, sites will be configured to use the architecture, Preisser said.


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