DOD leaders weigh in on homeland department

Three top Defense Department officials said last week that DOD could take a larger leadership role in establishing the proposed Homeland Security Department and that the key to the department's success would be the person responsible for information technology.

Eileen Preisser, director of DOD's Homeland Defense Technology Center, said the ultimate success or failure of the Homeland Security Department will be determined by the intelligence and IT plan that's proposed and the person selected to lead that effort. Preisser spoke at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's TechNet International 2002 conference in Washington, D.C.

"The kicker that will determine if it succeeds or fails is the intelligence and IT plan that's prepared," Preisser, a congressional fellow who also advises the Executive Office of the President on technology, 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," Preisser said. "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 tap someone who has worked on an enterprise system for a large corporation and who understands the mission and the roles that the various agencies should play. "I would like for that to happen, but I don't see that happening," she said.

Preisser and Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Kellogg Jr., director of command, control, communications and computers for DOD's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said to bring the department up to speed quickly, DOD officials should be given a mentoring role.

Kellogg told FCW that he has received "marching orders" from Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to work with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and other departments to "scope the issue...and get it done."

The greatest challenge facing the Homeland Security Department is integrating the cultures of the agencies it will comprise, Myers said. "It's very difficult to get those cultures to think in a different way, and [without IT] to back it all up, we're putting ourselves at risk, and that's unacceptable," he said.

"We need to capitalize on current technologies to build to the future, because the intent is to link everyone together," Kellogg said, adding that his office is now working on a "proposal on the way ahead to do it."

The only way the Homeland Security Department can break agency stovepipes will be to cut off the agencies' individual budgets and fund everything at the department level, Preisser said. She fears that the new department will just add more bureaucracy to a system already overloaded with red tape and 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."

"I don't buy that," said Paul Kurtz, senior director for national security for the White House's Office of Cyberspace Security. "It breaks down stovepipes, and that is a key to our success. The refrain has been to bring [the agencies] together to be more powerful. The sum of the total is greater than what we have now."

The government must continue to use and evolve IT, and the related policies and procedures, in a coordinated way. Currently, federal agencies, as well as state and local governments and industry partners, don't know where to go when they possess, or are in search of, certain homeland security information or intelligence, Kurtz said.

"This is the government doing its part to reorganize and coordinate better," he said. "Reorganization isn't the end, it's the beginning. We're trying to make it better."

The White House, in conjunction with the private sector, would release its national strategy for critical infrastructure protection in August or September, but that document will be subject to frequent updates as threats and vulnerabilities change, Kurtz said.

"We're going to make mistakes," he said. "We're new at this. The goal is to release the strategy in August or September and pursue that while the legislation is being put together on [Capitol] Hill. We're trying to do both at the same time."

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