Freeze not too hard on agencies

Federal agencies slated to become part of the proposed Homeland Security Department have felt few ill effects from the White House freeze on information technology investments, but it is too soon to tell whether that will continue as the decisions become more complex, officials told a House subcommittee Oct. 1.

So far, the Homeland Security IT Review Group has completed only three reviews - emergency requests for infrastructure purchases at the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard, and a standard request for knowledge management technology at the Secret Service - but the second round of reviews likely will be larger and will focus on more complex issues, said Mark Forman, assistant director for IT and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget.

OMB issued two memos in July that put new investments in infrastructure and management systems at the affected agencies on hold pending reviews by the newly formed Homeland Security IT Review Group. The group is led by OMB and the Office of Homeland Security, and is composed of the chief information officers from the agencies involved.

Testifying Oct. 1, officials at the General Accounting Office, the Information Technology Association of America and the affected agencies agreed that the freeze was necessary to make sure that the proposed department's IT is implemented in the most efficient way to support the organization's new mission. The officials appeared before the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee.

The next round of reviews will include the larger consolidation issues necessary for the Homeland Security Department to operate on its first day and during the first year, Forman said.

Mission-critical systems, including Customs' multibillion-dollar Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), are not included in the freeze.

However, officials are considering putting such systems through the review process anyway.

"Customs, in keeping with the intent of the OMB directive to eliminate duplication and ensure effective integration of agency systems, will submit our current ACE expenditure plan to the [review group] for formal approval before proceeding with the design and build phase of the second major block of work on ACE," said Woody Hall, the CIO at Customs.

Such mission-critical systems will be where the White House review process will truly be tested, said Joel Willemssen, managing director for IT issues at GAO. He said that a key to success would be developing a complete enterprise architecture that includes:

* What technology is available now.

* How officials want technology to support the proposed department's mission in the future.

* The transition plans to get to that goal.

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