Border agencies looking to share services

Officials from the Homeland Security Department's two border agencies are looking for ways to leverage similar systems to share costs and integrate their duties.

The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) share similar missions and can use similar, interoperable systems, said S.W. "Woody" Hall, assistant commissioner in the office of information and technology in the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. Coordinating the agencies' programs will facilitate their interdependence, he said.

"It's not a real common way of doing business in the federal government, but for us its makes a lot of sense," Hall said, speaking today at an executive breakfast sponsored by Input. "We've got an effective infrastructure in place, so maybe we [should] change the way we do business."

For example, the agencies have fairly robust wireless systems that can be consolidated to serve both agencies, Hall said. Aligning the systems to fit the needs will save the department money, he said. Hall will be working closely with BCIE chief information officer Scott Hastings to identify the areas to cross service.

"There are a lot of areas where the systems and support are no longer aligned with the users," he said. "We've got to realign our funding to go with where the people go."

Cross-servicing is one of several leadership challenges Hall identified in the merger of the customs and border agencies into DHS. Cultural challenges topped the list, and Hall said pride and identity concerns between the agencies are a barrier to working together. "We're trying to create an environment that feels like one team," he said.

A few other challenges Hall pointed out were:

* Realigning resources to fit budget constraints.

* Re-examining contracts written under the old framework to account for the new department's broad scope.

* Harmonizing personnel security clearances between agencies.

* Recruiting and retaining skilled information technology workers at a time when the government is shifting its focus from building systems in-house to outsourcing the production and maintaining the management.

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