Homeland transition at disadvantage

Despite guidance from some of the most experienced private-sector executives, federal officials are working at a disadvantage as they lead the rush to Jan. 24 — "day one" for the new Homeland Security Department.

The Office of Homeland Security has met many times with executives from companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Compaq Computer Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., Raytheon Co. and Lowe's. The primary recommendation from all: Establish a full-time, dedicated integration team to lead the merger of 22 individual agencies and provide continuity on decisions.

The White House started unofficially assembling people for its team months ago. But even now that the integration team is official, it is still a long way from where it could be, said Lee Holcomb, director of infostructure at the Office of Homeland Security. He was speaking Jan. 9 at the Government Convention on Emerging Technologies in Las Vegas.

"Since the passage of the law [creating the Homeland Security Department], we have significantly augmented the integration team, but truth be told, that team is still mostly part time and is not nearly as robust as we anticipated," he said.

Multiple barriers exist because of federal laws and regulations, making it difficult to move personnel from one agency to another during this interim period. This has left the integration team far short of the example outlined by the private-sector executives, Holcomb said.

"Being in the public sector has not allowed us to adopt a commercial best practice," he said.

The department did get a boost this week when Congress released $125 million for start-up costs, including $12.9 million for information technology, telecommunications and other network needs.

Holcomb said he is interested to see how Congress follows through on its mandate to "review its committee structure in light of the reorganization of responsibilities within the executive branch by the establishment of the department."

Trying to get the new department's appropriations under a single committee will be critical to the department's success, Holcomb believes. "The more you can place the mission objective [of the new department] under a single account, the more you can get away from these issues of fighting over a line item," he said.


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