Justice CIO has departmentwide vision

With an eye on the mission to combat terrorism, Justice Department chief information officer Vance Hitch is pushing for more information sharing and departmentwide thinking.

Justice is working to improve its technology foundation and shift the culture to more centralized solutions, Hitch said today at a breakfast sponsored by Input, an information and research firm based in Chantilly, Va.

"The culture at Justice has been very decentralized. This is not an easy task, but it's imperative to improve the effectiveness of IT," he said. "[Information sharing] is the only way we are going to be able to combat terrorism."

When Hitch assumed the role of CIO last spring, the department was in desperate need of an IT strategic plan. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had changed the department's overall mission from law enforcement to counterterrorism, and the information systems weren't ready for the change, Hitch said.

The department is facing new changes with the development of the Homeland Security Department, which will take on the Immigration and Naturalization Service while the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives moves to Justice.

Hitch called the move "a gradual transition" but said the change will impact his department's IT spending, which typically is 6 percent to 8 percent of the overall Justice budget.

INS accounted for nearly 38 percent of the department's IT spending in fiscal 2003, but because of the agency's move, Justice's fiscal 2004 budget doesn't include INS.

However, the FBI continues to account for a large portion of the department's IT spending. In fiscal 2004, 75 percent of the department's IT spending request was earmarked for the FBI, with most of it dedicated to the Trilogy modernization program.

Hitch also emphasized the need to view Justice as a whole, funding and managing IT projects and sharing solutions departmentwide.

"You can't just be a group of 30 different organizations," Hitch said. "There's a reason we're together, and we have to act as a department, especially when it comes to IT."

Rather than each organization implementing a solution, Hitch said there's a need to share funding and best practices.

"Everybody wants to do it their own way," he said. "We can't afford to do that anymore, and it's not good business."

One major initiative that illustrates this shift is the implementation of a unified financial management system, an effort the department hasn't seen before. A request for proposals for the system software is expected Feb. 14. The system would include the core financial management system, a federal procurement module, an e-Travel management module and a property management module. The system would affect each organization in the department.

A second initiative, the Joint Automated Booking System (JABS), is in its final phase and demonstrates the promotion of best practices that Hitch supports. JABS, a cross-agency database of arrest information, brought together the remote or manual processes of collecting information. Hitch said the system has speeded up the process, and he seeks to spread the system to other agencies that make arrests.

The department also is creating a single data network to replace the current fragmented and inefficient communications. The current network has a limited capability to share information, lacks a unified security view and duplicates training functions within the department.

A new system would integrate the communications between organizations, with a strong focus on improving security and promoting information sharing.

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