TSA shows the way

In proposing to create a Homeland Security Department, the Bush administration acknowledged the need for a new kind of federal agency, one with unparalleled management flexibility. Although Congress is debating aspects of the proposal, the department's future leaders can learn a great deal from the flexible management approach taken by the Transportation Security Administration, one of the department's major components.

TSA understands the benefits of focusing in-house resources on the performance of core missions while outsourcing mission support to the private sector on a performance basis. Last month, TSA awarded the Information Technology Managed Services contract to a team led by Unisys Corp., DynCorp and IBM Corp. The contract gives TSA the ability to acquire IT infrastructure as an integrated, modular utility. The government orders services, such as local- or wide-area connectivity, seat management, etc., under service-level agreements, and the private-sector partners build and own the infrastructure.

Of particular interest is the way performance is evaluated. Contractor bonuses and penalties are determined using two metrics: service levels and TSA mission objectives. This mix of metrics will drive TSA and the contractor team to an effective partnership. The challenge is to define the service levels and the TSA objectives in detail.

Earlier this year, TSA took an even bolder outsourcing step. In March, NCS Pearson Inc. received a $103 million-plus contract to recruit, qualify and hire security screeners and managers for the nation's airports by the end of the year. The award was notable because NCS Pearson's human resource qualifications are much better known in the private sector. Contract performance measures are dynamic, and TSA is closely monitoring them against the backdrop of congressional deadlines.

As of Sept. 4, TSA had hired more than 23,600 screeners, on the way to its target of 52,000. Starting from scratch to find and assess more than 1 million applicants in the 50 states and beyond, NCS Pearson now manages the payroll and benefits for the new federal employees and maintains their personnel files. Almost the entire personnel function has been outsourced, freeing TSA to focus on core missions.

With a huge task ahead, the demands on the proposed department's federal employees would be strenuous. The challenges would include the creation of an integrated IT infrastructure out of a legacy containing almost every technology. They would extend to support functions such as human resources and financial management and ultimately to the mission-critical information systems supporting cargo clearance and grants management.

With sound management, performance-based outsourcing and strong private-sector partnerships may be applied successfully throughout the new Homeland Security Department.

McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at the Office of Management and Budget, is president of McConnell International LLC (www.mcconnellinternational.com).

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