CIO: Outsourcing might fix FEMA woes

The Federal Emergency Management Agency likely will turn to outsourcing in the coming years, according to agency chief information officer Ronald Miller.

Miller recently received results 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, he said in an interview with Federal Computer Week last 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 last 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 department, 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.

CIOs at those agencies and top IT policy-makers at the Office of Management and Budget have begun working on the department's enterprise architecture.

"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.

"In the short run, we're probably going to continue to do things as we are," said Pat Schambach, TSA's associate undersecretary for information and security technology, speaking June 25 at E-Gov's Homeland Security 2002 conference in Washington, D.C. "It could be [that] the vision we have for TSA could be the larger vision for the Homeland Security Department."

Miller also has presented FEMA's IT model as a possible launching point. "I put our methods and ideas on the table for the group to consider," he said.

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 sees it as a potential way to establish standardization and institute a life cycle replacement program.

"For some of those things, I think [outsourcing] could be a solution," said David Tapper, a senior analyst at IDC. "Those are pretty much built into outsourcing."

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

"I'm looking [at it] much more broadly," he said, although there are "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 launching DisasterHelp.gov, a Web portal that is one of 24 cross-agency e-government initiatives highlighted by the Bush administration.

An initial release of the site, which will largely be 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 $50 million to $100 million in services that include developing the site's architecture and design concept and integrating multiple technologies, specifically wireless capabilities, Miller said.

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

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FEMA's IT checkup

Ronald Miller, chief information officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, received results last month from the first phase of a Gartner Inc. study analyzing the agency's information technology environment.

According to Miller, Gartner found:

* Obsolete and nonuniform equipment.

* High operating costs.

* Poor asset management.

Miller is overseeing the biggest reorganization of the agency's IT Services Directorate in the division's seven-year history. He has centralized all IT resources under his department, folding transformation and cybersecurity offices into the mix. Before, security personnel were scattered throughout FEMA and did not report to the same person. He anticipates that an audit of the agency's IT will be complete by July 31 and that the second phase of the Gartner study will be completed by the end of the summer.

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