Letters to the editor

Accountability Key to Interoperability

There are many reasons why terrorists succeeded in attacking us Sept. 11, 2001. However, in order to maximize our efforts, we must focus on areas where effective results will come quickly.

I have been hearing and reading that one prime culprit is too much information and too little time to process it. Aside from serious interoperability issues (related to both information technology systems and managerial fiefdoms), the steps necessary for turning data into information and then knowledge is by no means trivial and requires cutting-edge technologies and abilities. This is especially true if one is trying to avert another terrorist attack.

Therefore, the process of mining data into something usable is paramount to preventing another attack, and it is no less than a major paradigm shift in how government and its underlying systems operate.

Now here's the rub: The government is unable to get its technology or its bureaucracies to interoperate. These two inabilities are directly related and reveal one symptom that must be corrected before any real change can occur — our culture, pure and simple. Not an easy task, considering how far we have to go. However, like any journey, it begins with the first step.

This first step would be to require every manager to have established goals and the criteria for measuring them. They should be assessed quarterly. If after a year or so there is no action, managers should be dismissed. If after successive attempts of dismissing managers fails to achieve results, then a root-cause analysis needs to be performed to determine why nothing has changed.

Along with a good plan — one that is consistently implemented and will not shift with every minute political wind — accountability, and the demand for it, is fundamental. I have intentionally avoided the issue of who is responsible for our current state of affairs. I've done so because no one is beyond reproach: civil servants, politicians and everyday citizens are all responsible. In a republic, if we want something better, then we must demand it.

Jim Mauroff Federal Aviation Administration

The following are responses to an FCW.com poll question that asked: "Should managers joining the proposed Homeland Security Department have to reapply for their jobs?"

People Hold Key to Homeland

I seem to remember us being successful at government operations before technology reared its ugly head. It's the three P's — people, process and policy — that are the key to homeland security being successful. The technology will only enable what is agreed to.

Success ultimately will depend on how the people view their work, how Congress and the Homeland Security Department support this view with good policy, and then the application of technology to support it.

Interviews should be restricted to those individuals joining the government for the first time, for they are the ones who really don't have a clue about how it works. Leaders of the new department need to be sure that they are getting good players who can contribute, not people with an ax to grind.

Kirk Nicholas KPMG Consulting Inc.

I just read Diane Frank's article, "Advisers fuel HR debate" [FCW, Sept. 2]. I agree that federal employees should have to apply for the jobs within the Homeland Security Department the same as any other positions within the federal government.

There is a lot of discussion about IT problems and how to solve them. There is no discussion about the records management problems the new department will have.

Records management is the process of taking raw data and placing it into a usable format, having it available to the right person when needed, releasing it under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act, retaining it for the proper length of time, and destroying it properly.

The new department needs to ensure that it has a strong records management division. It should not be under the IT department; it should be at the same level as IT. The Homeland Security Department records manager should oversee all programs written by IT to ensure that the data being placed in it or created by the program is retained for the proper length of time. He/she needs to ensure that all the data coming into this department is stored and retained correctly.

This department has a unique opportunity to set up a records management division correctly so what happened to the FBI will not happen to it.

Name withheld by request

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