Homeland department IT taking shape

Homeland Security bill

Top Bush administration information technology managers have begun to create an IT architecture for the proposed Homeland Security Department while Congress still debates the legislation that will ultimately form the department.

Chief information officers at the agencies designated to become part of the Homeland Security Department and top IT policy-makers at the Office of Management and Budget have begun drafting initial plans for the networking needs of the agencies that will have to share information and communications. The team is also working on merging the multibillion-dollar IT investments many of these agencies already have under way.

Steve Cooper, senior director of information integration and CIO at the Homeland Security Office, said his office, working with OMB, doesn't "want to interfere or block" the IT initiatives under development, but wants "to integrate and align them."

The Homeland Security Department will include organizations — and the IT networks that support them — as diverse as the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the new Transportation Security Administration.

Much of what the IT transition team is working on revolves around collaboration tools, which can include everything from document management to e-mail, Cooper said. Special working groups have been formed to hammer out the details of collaboration tools and other technologies such as wireless communications and geospatial information.

The administration plans to begin addressing many of the long-term architecture issues next month when Congress is expected to pass a supplemental appropriations bill that includes funding to create an Information Integration Program Office, Cooper said. Officials have already identified personnel to work in the office, and as soon as the money is available, they will be sent to the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, he said.

The team is relying on work done in recent years on enterprise architectures within individual agencies, which includes a list of IT equipment in place and a plan for future integration, Cooper said. OMB's efforts during the past year to create a federal enterprise architecture and align common IT investments across government also provides a road map.

The team has a good chance of achieving its goals, said Alan Balutis, executive director of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils. However, quickly meeting the short-term needs of interoperability while developing a long-term architecture will not be an easy task, he said.

"Many of the [existing] program and systems initiatives aren't aimed at the homeland security arena. They were designed with other customer needs in mind," Balutis said. "A transition of this size would be challenging in and of itself, even at another time."

The team also has begun discussing interoperability of enterprise systems and initiatives in development, which will be more difficult to integrate into the department's single architecture. Modernization programs, such as the Customs Service's Automated Commercial Environment, the Coast Guard's Deepwater program and the Immigration and Naturalization Service's ATLAS program, have some of the largest budgets of the efforts already under way.

Past criticism of these programs brought up concerns last week as the House Government Reform and Senate Government Affairs committees considered the administration's plan for the new department. Committee members Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Ed Schrock (R-Va.) questioned whether the department could create new information systems and simultaneously integrate them when these systems already have development problems.

The management structure proposed in the White House bill should address these problems, said Tom Ridge, director of the Homeland Security Office, testifying at the House and Senate hearings. Ridge is also director of the Transition Planning Office within OMB, which President Bush created by executive order on June 20. The IT team led by Cooper will work with this new office.

That structure includes an undersecretary for management, who would be responsible for all management functions, including IT, personnel, budget and procurement. The bill also creates a separate CIO and chief financial officer.

The relatively undefined management structure — the bill lays out some positions and responsibilities clearly, but not others — also has some observers worried.

The proposal "appears to represent a more traditional, and somewhat antiquated, management structure," a senior administration official said.

"I would explore giving the CIO direct responsibility and accountability for information systems and information technology, including direct budget authority," the official said. Without direct oversight of the IT functions and budgets in every area of the department, "this just won't work."


The security players

Below are the information technology managers responsible for developing the single IT architecture for the Homeland Security Department. The architecture is intended to eliminate redundant investments and allow the department to work in real time.

The homeland security IT team:

* Steve Cooper, senior director of information integration and chief information officer, Homeland Security Office

* Mark Forman, associate director of information technology and e-government, Office of Management and Budget

* Jim Flyzik, senior adviser for IT, Homeland Security Office

* Norman Lorentz, chief technology officer, OMB

The IT transition team that will work with the leaders is composed of agency CIOs and other IT officials, including:

* Ron Miller, CIO, Federal Emergency Management Agency

* Pat Schambach, associate undersecretary for information and security technology, Transportation Security Administration

* Scott Hastings, associate commissioner for the Information Resources Management Office, Immigration and Naturalization Service

* Dan Chenok, director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs' information technology and policy branch, OMB

* Nathaniel Heiner, acting CIO, Coast Guard


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