United homeland effort vital to states

National Association of State Chief Information Officers

As cash-strapped states grapple with providing homeland protection, chief information officers can play pivotal roles in using funding and technologies in an enterprisewide fashion, according to Missouri's top technologist.

While the definition of homeland security is simple — a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks, reduce vulnerabilities, minimize damage and recover — achieving the goal is not, said Gerry Wethington, who also is president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). "When you think about the interaction that occurs there, it's not quite so simple," he said in a keynote address to Federal Sources Inc.'s annual State of the States briefing in Washington, D.C., March 4.

Achieving homeland security requires collaboration not only at the federal level but down through the layers of government, Wethington said, adding that CIOs and state homeland security directors have to work together to identify needs and use funds accordingly for an enterprisewide benefit.

That won't be so easy, he said, because most federal dollars disbursed for homeland security information technology since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have been earmarked for training and equipment, and little recognition has been given to protecting "fragile" state networks. Most federal funds are distributed in a silo fashion, meaning they're tied to specific programs and can't be used for other needs, he added.

The National Governors Association has estimated that states have spent about $6 billion on homeland security from Sept. 11, 2001, to the end of 2002, Wethington said. The cost can be managed if states work collaboratively, he added, but it means getting lawmakers and others to understand technology's value in their day-to-day business.

"It's not about span of control, it's about sphere of influence," he said. "We've got to make it real to people." CIOs should partner with others responsible for enterprise architecture and build consensus because technology cuts across all disciplines.

NASCIO, he said, has formed homeland security, cyberterrorism and enterprise architecture committees to help in this endeavor. Enterprise architecture, he added, will be key to developing homeland security capabilities and managing interoperability among public health, emergency response, public safety and intelligence.

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