The Circuit

Starting from Scratch

The Bush administration apparently plans to build the Homeland Security Department's information technology infrastructure from scratch, at least in some areas. According to one agency official, the administration has told the Office of Personnel Management that its e-government initiatives — including e-Payroll, Integrated Human Resources and e-Clearance — will be adopted by the proposed Cabinet office.

Is this indicative of a larger plan to replace basic systems from the bits and pieces of agencies that are to be folded into the new department? If so, it has several officials concerned, because none of the OPM initiatives are scheduled for completion until months after the planned fall launch of the new department.

Out of the Loop (I)

The proposed Homeland Security Department has generated quite a buzz among the agency employees who would be transferred under its control. Officials testified before Congress about their excitement, and others spoke about their pride in having a role in the new department.

But the general enthusiasm did nothing to allay concerns that one week after the announcement, many officials still had received no further details from the White House about the impact on their agencies. The administration, of course, could not get to every employee who might be affected by the change. But at least one agency's top dog still had received no information beyond the outline released to the public, according to an official from that agency.

Sounds like one of the department's first hires should be a human resources officer.

Out of the Loop (II)

The administration is determined not to let government jargon muddle its forthcoming cybersecurity guidelines. Richard Clarke, special adviser to the president for cyberspace security, said the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace will not be written by bureaucrats, but by people in such areas as higher education, banking, transportation, and state and local government. The report — originally scheduled for release this summer but now pushed back to mid-September — will lay out a plan to secure critical operations in the public and private sectors.

Administration officials believe it is essential that the public understand what's at stake. Speaking at the third annual Networked Economy Summit hosted by the George Mason University School of Law's National Center for Technology and Law, Clarke said many business and government agencies are not taking cybersecurity seriously, despite the fact that the number of cyber incidents continues to rise, causing an estimated $15 billion in damage last year.

"Well, folks, digital Pearl Harbors are happening every day," Clarke said. "It could happen to any company any day." But the federal government should not regulate, dictate or take a command role in securing the Internet, he warned. That's because in cyberspace, technology and threats move rapidly and the government is not fast enough to keep up, nor does it have the expertise.

The administration's public outreach effort has been under way for several months, with town hall meetings conducted in Denver, Chicago and Portland, Ore. Another is scheduled for next week in Atlanta.

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