Tech at ready for INS decisions

It would take at least 2 years to roll out the technology needed to substantially improve security along the nation's borders, according to Chuck Archer, the homeland security vice president at Northrop Grumman Corp.

But before erecting technological barricades, the nation must "make some fundamental choices on what kind of a society we want to be," said Scott Hastings, associate commissioner for the Information Resources Management Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Throughout its history, the United States has had open borders, Hastings said. And even after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the desire for greater security quickly collides with the demand for free trade, he said.

As a nation, "we need to engage in a discussion of how secure we can afford to be and what we want to give up," Hastings said in remarks to technology vendors attending E-Gov's Homeland Security 2002 conference June 25 in Washington, D.C.

The technology itself is ready to go, said Archer, a former FBI agent. Off-the-shelf technology could dramatically tighten security along U.S. borders and at ports of entry, and vendors are anxious to start selling and installing it, he said.

The business world already uses technology that could improve border security, such as sensors linked to global positioning satellites, surveillance systems used to spot cheating gamblers in casinos, technology used to track aircraft and software that renders dissimilar databases interoperable.

Since Sept. 11, "we've learned a lot more about how the private sector uses technology," Hastings said — and learned that much of it "simply outclasses what the government has."

That puts technology companies in an ideal position to help INS and other government agencies equip for homeland security, but first government agencies must clearly determine what their requirements are, Hastings said. And that will take time.

INS, long beset by technology troubles, had barely begun a sweeping overhaul ordered by Attorney General John Ashcroft last fall when President Bush announced June 6 that he intended to move the agency from the Justice Department to the proposed Homeland Security Department.

Although the reorganization that Ashcroft ordered continues, INS is "waiting to see how organization issues with Homeland Security play out" before planning any big new technology buys to improve border security, Hastings said.

Even the long-awaited, automated entry/exit system that Congress ordered INS to build may be delayed slightly, he said.

At least initially, much of the technology shopping done by INS likely will be for hardware and software designed "to leverage existing systems," Hastings said. "INS has made a huge investment in" information technology during the years and now must concentrate on integrating its various systems, he said.

Hastings likened his agency's move to the Homeland Security Department — if it occurs — to a corporate "merger and acquisition." He said business representatives with experience in combining companies could help INS by providing advice on "change management and organizational issues."

And he urged vendors, "When you come to us with a business solution, tell us how it fits in. Put it in a business context. That would be greatly beneficial."

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