Letter to the editor

The establishment of a Cabinet-level department for homeland security is an opportunity to address long-standing information resource management and other support service issues currently afflicting the various agencies responsible for securing our borders.

It's important, however, that the people in the administration and Congress trying to build this department out of some well-used blocks understand what they're up against.

I work for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. At many of our border facilities, we share space with the U.S. Customs Service. However, that's about all we share. In most cases, we have separate computer networks, phone systems and facilities management practices. At some places we have good working relationships with each other and at others we might as well be two completely alien species.

If we're going to break down the cultural barriers that get in the way of our homeland security mission, the new department should have a single organization structure providing support for information technology, telecommunications, facilities, procurement, contracting, human resources, etc. Otherwise the reorganization will result in little more than a patchwork quilt of departmental feudal baronies, each maintaining its own parochial view of the world through control of "their" systems. It will make the Navy's task of dealing with their 30,000 plus legacy systems look like a walk in the park.

A large part of the sharing and cooperation we need operationally will come only if someone at the top of the organization breaks down the system-level barriers that exist today.

Behind every successful organization stands a successful support system. Without a clear, consistent vision for operational support (and on the IT side, a single chief information officer who isn't just a bean counter), we will likely be no more effective at protecting our borders than we are now.

Name withheld by request

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