OMB puts hold on homeland IT

The Office of Management and Budget last week froze more than $1 billion worth of information technology projects being planned at major agencies that would be shifted to the proposed Homeland Security Department.

OMB, which is helping to create an integrated IT infrastructure for the proposed department, needs time to sift through agencies' plans and identify redundancies, said Mark Forman, OMB's associate director for IT and e-government.

The freeze, explained in a July 19 memo, affects new IT investments of more than $500,000 at the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other agencies.

The hold will remain pending a review of each investment plan, which could take days or weeks, by an interagency board that will recommend reductions and consolidations, Forman said.

Agency leaders must cease their investments and identify any current or planned IT spending not already included in the fiscal 2003 budget request. This information must be provided to OMB no later than Aug. 15.

Ongoing programs, such as the Customs Service's $1.3 billion Automated Commercial Environment, will not be affected, according to OMB. Plans for new homeland security-related projects, though, will be scrutinized to see if existing systems could meet those requirements.

"Things that are under way are exactly the kind of things that we want to leverage," Forman said.

Investments under consideration include:

* $26 million for Customs' Integrated Network.

* $91 million for the Coast Guard's National Distress and Response System Modernization Project.

* $1 billion for TSA's IT Managed Services contract.

Any emergency procurements that an agency cannot have held up will be reviewed by OMB within 24 hours, Forman said.

Because TSA's planned procurement will supply the new agency's basic IT infrastructure, a rapid but thorough review of TSA's needs against existing investments at other agencies is at the top of the review group's to-do list. Many decisions, including some of TSA's investments, will likely be made before the Aug. 15 deadline, Forman said.

TSA officials did not have any comment, but Ronald Miller, FEMA's chief information officer, said he supports the approach taken by OMB and the Office of Homeland Security.

"I think our first obligation should be...to use our resources wisely, which requires us to take a comprehensive look, and No. 2, to ensure we can find quick victories...best of breed solutions and use that as the foundation for the whole department," Miller said.

The cultural problems that will arise as program officials find out which investments will be combined or cut will be the hardest hurdle to overcome, said Roger Baker, former CIO at the Commerce Department and now an executive vice president at CACI International Inc.

"Every reasonable IT person in government knows there is substantial overlap and redundancy, but they're always hoping that it's not their program that is considered redundant," he said.

An overriding concern is that the reviews could stand in the way of necessary modernization efforts, said David Colton, vice president for strategic initiatives at the Information Technology Association of America. "Bean counting on the redundancies is important, but it should not be the top priority," he said.

Megan Lisagor contributed to this report

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