Change agents needed

Almost everyone agrees that the Homeland Security Department is needed to encourage agencies to work together to protect the United States from terrorism. But like so many other ambitious government initiatives, the success of the department in rooting out terrorists, spoiling plots and reacting quickly and effectively to attacks that do occur will require a dramatic cultural shift.

A significant part of that shift will rely on technology, specifically in creating an enterprise architecture in which information is shared efficiently among the agencies the Bush administration has tagged to be part of the new department. The details of the architecture are sketchy, but past experience shows that just trying to get the chief information officer and program managers in the same agency to agree on a single architecture is a struggle.

The key to creating enterprise architectures is finding information technology managers who believe that a standard system can revolutionize how government works and therefore governs.

Cultural change isn't easy. It takes years. Unfortunately, the nation does not have years to wait. It also means a change in the way government governs. Other problems exist, some IT experts point out — for instance, much of the information gathering and analysis will be conducted by agencies outside the new department, namely the CIA and the FBI. Congress and the Bush administration must find solutions for these problems.

What it will take is finding so-called change agents in agencies — IT managers who can envision the solutions and have the managerial skills to make them happen. Such people exist in government and must be tapped. Creating an effective Homeland Security Department will test the governing skills of the most talented political appointees and CIOs. These change agents could help agencies reach what thus far has been unattainable: a truly integrated government.

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