Justice CIO crafting united plan

A strategic technology plan circulating through the Justice Department this week says that the department can no longer tolerate 39 fiefdoms "doing their own thing" with computer systems and networks.

Vance Hitch, the department's new chief information officer, said he is determined to craft a Justice-wide information technology architecture and require that new computer systems be used by several — and in some cases by all — divisions within Justice.

Three months into his job, Hitch depicts Justice as a fragmented agency hobbled by aged computers and incompatible systems.

Justice's computer systems security is so bad that Hitch said he wanted to hire a deputy CIO and a cadre of IT security specialists whose sole focus will be to fix "security holes."

"There are hundreds or thousands of them" in the department's computer systems, Hitch told a gathering of technology vendors July 9 at a breakfast meeting sponsored by Federal Sources Inc., a market research firm in McLean, Va. To say that security must be improved "is an understatement," he said. At present, security is so poor it would be "very easy to take out a lot of our infrastructure."

The FBI, one of Justice's most technologically troubled divisions, is ill-prepared to deal with IT security holes, he said. "They did not even have a good handle on how many systems they had," let alone what their security problems are, Hitch said.

The state of security "is embarrassing," he said.

Poor security and many other IT problems can be traced to Justice's organization and its lack of a departmentwide IT architecture, Hitch said.

The department is composed of 39 components, from such well-known agencies as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration to lesser-known entities such as the National Institute of Corrections and the U.S. Parole Commission.

"They all did their own thing" when it came to developing computer and data systems, Hitch said. Even when they hired the same vendors to assemble similar systems, the various components did not end up with systems that were interoperable, he said.

"It is not the culture of the Justice Department" to operate as a single agency, he said.

But there is pressure now to change that, Hitch said. Justice has a new mission — counterterrorism — and President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft are emphasizing the need for improving information sharing, increasing information security, streamlining and simplifying.

Justice plans to spend $2 billion on IT in 2003, and Hitch said his aim is to modernize and unify the department's IT infrastructure.

Among his goals:

* Develop a departmentwide public-key infrastructure to share information securely.

* Adopt common systems and solutions to make collaboration easier.

* Save money by adopting a departmentwide financial system.

* Search for ways technology can change and improve department operations. In the past, technology has been adapted to department operations.

As Justice CIO, Hitch said he has been assured by Ashcroft of a degree of influence over the agencywide IT budget, but he said he also wants "to be a part of the components' IT process." That could mean a shift in authority for components such as the FBI and the INS, which have their own CIOs.

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