Take a lesson from Trilogy

Just a day after the Bush administration released its National Strategy for Homeland Security, FBI information technology managers were on Capitol Hill explaining the realities of upgrading and deploying advanced networks to share information agencywide. Those expecting a relatively quick, or even a slow but persistent, march toward the establishment of a Homeland Security Department should draw sobering lessons from the FBI's experience.

On July 16, the Bush administration laid out a grand strategy for defending the nation from attacks, which included a heavy reliance on IT. Information sharing and other systems play a big role in the national strategy. The plan is ambitious, of course, and the Homeland Security Department will have the difficult job of turning the broad vision into workable networks.

That's why July 17's events were so timely. That day, FBI IT managers informed a congressional panel that there was no way, even with increased spending, that they would speed up the deployment of the $400 million Trilogy project, a contract that the FBI hopes will give its agents the latest computer networks and the ability to share information on crimes. The reason: The FBI wants to do it right.

After Sept. 11, the FBI wanted to complete Trilogy by the end of this year, almost one year ahead of schedule. But FBI officials now say they can't do it, despite sharp criticism from Congress. The inability of the FBI — just one agency — to speed up its modernization project by just one year is a reminder to the Homeland Security Department architects of how big their job is. The job the proposed department has ahead of it is of larger magnitude than what the FBI has tackled.

That doesn't mean Congress and the public should not demand a quick deployment, but they must be realistic. Should America have a quick solution or a solution that works? Sometimes those are not mutually exclusive, but with such an enormous construction job ahead, expectations should not be too high. That will only lead to disappointment and finger-pointing.

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