IT freeze or thaw?

Homeland security agencies' most pressing information technology needs are moving quickly through a review process set up by the Bush administration, but the expected flood of investment reviews has not yet materialized, officials said.

Only a few agencies have asked for reviews of information systems and projects put on hold in July by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Homeland Security, said Steve Cooper, senior director of information integration and chief information officer for the latter office.

Although large IT programs at the Transportation Security Administration, the Secret Service and the Coast Guard have gone through the process and received approval, only a "handful" of other initiatives are being reviewed, Cooper said.

The hold on projects affects more than $1 billion in IT investments at the agencies tapped to form the proposed Homeland Security Department. The administration set up an IT Investment Review Group — composed of CIOs from the affected agencies and led by OMB and the Office of Homeland Security — to put each planned investment through a rapid review so the department could avoid redundant systems and make the most of existing systems.

The rush to free up money will likely come later, according to one senior administration official. A few immediate needs must be addressed now, but more requests are expected in the coming months, when longer-term decisions must be made, the official said.

The lack of final legislation creating and defining the proposed department is also a factor, said Mark Forman, OMB's associate director for IT and e-government. "We expect to see more requests as more requirements surface related to the new Department of Homeland Security," he said. "The process is working, and we expect to refine it as we learn over time, but currently we are in the very early stages of our work."

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