Homeland Security ready for business

The Homeland Security Department (DHS) showed vendors last week that it is definitely in business, issuing its first request for information for technology services to evaluate its information technology programs.

The request for information, released March 18, seeks strategies to evaluate the condition of the department's IT portfolio as the agency taps into technology to build its infrastructure.

"This evaluation will require the application of an analytical framework that will rapidly and accurately characterize systems, individual mission or business applications...[for] technology fitness and business value to the department," the request said.

It also requires information on methodologies for best practices, automated solutions for sound architecture, hosting on standard hardware and flexible user interfaces. The information must be submitted by April 2.

Although there is no value attached to the request, Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, estimated that it could be worth "tens of millions" of dollars.

"This is certainly the first one out of the box. It seems to be a fairly significant one. They are looking for oversight and management," Allen said. "There are people who are past ready to submit bids on homeland security work. I think this will be a big chunk of the pie for day-to-day IT, but there will also be other things that come out that will be special in nature."

Steve Cooper, DHS' chief information officer, said March 20 that the department is "beginning a journey." There is "absolutely no doubt we will succeed," he said at a meeting of the Association for Federal Information Resources Management.

Cooper said many pieces of the department have already been put in place — including networks and desktop computers.

He also said DHS has tapped the Transportation Security Administration's Information Technology Managed Services program, run by Unisys Corp., to "pull off a lot of miracles" with $125 million earmarked by Congress for IT for the department. Although it sounds like a lot of money, Cooper said about half of it was invested in IT infrastructure.

"I've been told there's money," he said. But "we honestly don't have a lot of money. It's disappearing rapidly." Since March 1 when the 22 federal agencies were folded into DHS, Cooper has had greater flexibility to tap into other agencies' IT budgets.

DHS officials are conducting an inventory of all IT assets to attempt to eliminate redundant systems by September and make use of pooled resources.

Among the IT assets is a smart card that employees could use to access facilities and networks across the new organization, said Woody Hall, former Customs Service CIO who joined DHS.

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