FEMA pointed toward outsourcing

The Federal Emergency Management Agency likely will turn to outsourcing in the coming years, FEMA chief information officer Ron Miller said June 24.

Miller said he received results last week from the first phase of a Gartner Inc. study that analyzed FEMA's information technology environment. Gartner found that the agency has a lot of obsolete and nonuniform equipment, high operating costs and poor asset management, Miller said in an interview with Federal Computer Week.

"Outsourcing may be the quickest and most efficient way for us to get to a state-of-the-art infrastructure," he said.

The Transportation Security Administration has taken that tack. Earlier this month, TSA issued a $1 billion statement of objectives for its IT infrastructure that has managed services at its core.

The statement came a week after Bush unveiled his proposal for a Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department that would house several existing agencies, including TSA and FEMA. The Immigration and Naturalization Service would also go into the mix, along with its $157.5 million ATLAS program, which is intended to fix infrastructure shortfalls, solve connectivity problems and improve information assurance throughout the agency.

"We're all going to be one big family," Miller said. "We need to work together.

"What should happen [is] we should come together and do an integrated procurement," he added.

TSA is charging forward, however, with its own procurement and plans to make an award July 25.

Meanwhile, Gartner is expected to finish the second phase of the FEMA study and provide recommendations by the end of the summer, Miller said. "I anticipate they're going to recommend we go to outsourcing," he said.

Planning and acquisition for outsourcing would take place in the first half of fiscal 2003, with implementation in fiscal 2004, he said.

Miller sees it as a potential way to establish standardization and to institute a life cycle replacement program. "I'm looking [at it] much more broadly," he said, although "a lot of sensitive missions we may want to keep within government."

Miller doesn't anticipate that outsourcing would eliminate jobs at FEMA because of the agency's ever-growing IT to-do list, particularly since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

One high-priority task is getting DisasterHelp.gov — a Web portal that is one of 24 cross-agency e-government initiatives highlighted by the Bush administration — off the ground.

An initial release of the site, which will be largely an information resource to start, is slated for Aug. 31.

In September or October, FEMA will issue a statement of objectives for DisasterHelp.gov for services that include developing the site's architecture and design concept and integrating multiple technologies, specifically wireless capabilities, Miller said.

The estimated $50 million to $100 million project will use open standards, Java and Extensible Markup Language, he said.

Miller hopes to have a fairly mature capability by the end of fiscal 2003. FEMA could also fold a disaster warning system into the site, he said.

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