Homeland preps IT buys

Homeland Security Department officials will begin soliciting information from vendors in the next six weeks on what information technology and services they can provide the new department, with a goal of having 80 percent of the IT infrastructure complete by Sept. 1.

The department, which officially opened its doors March 1 after absorbing 22 agencies or offices from across government, plans to issue requests for information to industry so that it can jump-start its IT procurement process. The department expects to launch a Web site later this month to post its plans and gather the thousands of suggestions anticipated from the IT community.

The department is "looking for ideas and approaches, new ways to go forward," said Jim Flyzik, former special adviser for IT at the Office of Homeland Security, speaking last week at the Information Processing Interagency Conference in Orlando, Fla. He filled in for Steve Cooper, chief information officer at the new department, who was unable to attend.

To date, several key pieces of the IT infrastructure have been put in place, including a departmentwide e-mail system and a Web site. Department officials have said they will rely on existing contracts and systems within some of the 22 agencies to help them meet their mission.

But Flyzik said the department is looking for other solutions. For example, he said department officials are looking for ways to consolidate 23 human resources systems into one. "Clearly, 23 is not an optimal number," Flyzik told the gathering of government and industry representatives.

Department officials are also searching for a way to hold secure videoconferences among the department and state and local governments.

Dr. Nathaniel Heiner, chief knowledge officer at the Coast Guard who is working with the Homeland Security Department, said vendors should continue using existing government contacts to pitch new services.

"One of the challenges that Cooper faces is to understand how everything is working — who knows what, what systems do what," Heiner said.

In the near future, he said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Cooper are expected to announce a procurement plan and a strategy for implementing it.

"With the scope of what we are facing, we need to collaborate with other agencies," Heiner said.

Whatever finally emerges is expected to face intense scrutiny from Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, and from the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), according to congressional aides.

Merging the multiple systems is a tough job that is going to take time, so citizens and business owners "will have to adjust," Davis said last week at a reception marking the transfer of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to the Homeland Security Department.

"You can imagine the challenge of merging 22 agencies into one department," he said. "It's going to take awhile. There are going to be bugs in our system as we work our way through."

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