DHS still working on info-sharing plans

Department of Homeland Security

Homeland Security Department officials want local government to help form the information-sharing portions of the department's enterprise architecture, but they haven't figured out yet how to efficiently work with so many jurisdictions at once.

The nature of homeland security operations often requires DHS to share data with counties and local municipalities, and how that happens will be part of the department's enterprise architecture plan. DHS has given its architecture document to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers — a partnership that DHS' chief information officer, Steve Cooper, called a "good, strong one" — and some municipalities offered input. But it is difficult to deal with 3,000 counties and nearly 90,000 municipalities simultaneously.

"We don't have a perfect answer there," he said.

Version 1.0 of the DHS enterprise architecture was unveiled in October, just four months after work started on the plan. The department is eyeing other quick hits, such as sharing watch list information, developing a central point for distributing and monitoring grants consistently, and conducting a survey of state, local and industry needs.

In the next six months, DHS officials expect the agency's enterprise architecture blueprint will let them closely examine back-office operations to explore consolidation and economies of scale in areas such as procurement and human resources. The document's long-term goal is to help the department and its agencies develop a solid business case for programs, applications and systems. It will help them demonstrate what fits within a business model architecture and delivers value, Cooper said.

"I absolutely believe it's the right thing to do," he said.

During a press briefing this week, Cooper and Amy Wheelock, who heads the Bureau for Citizenship and Immigration Services' Investment Management Review Branch, outlined the objectives and goals of the department's enterprise architecture.

To make sure programs are on target and in line with the National Strategy for Homeland Security, they're measured against DHS' enterprise architecture plan, Cooper said. Although it is quite broad now, the document will be developed in even more detail to the point where a border agent can find out his role and responsibilities.

The enterprise architecture plan is never complete. "It's meant to be dynamic," he said.

Upgraded versions of the document are in the works for next year. About $9 million is earmarked in fiscal 2004 and a similar amount is planned for fiscal 2005, Cooper said.

This is a complex process that will take time, officials said. By identifying and analyzing information technology projects, they can optimize use of funds, perhaps see some savings and then reinvest those savings into new capabilities. For example, they've identified 3,000 applications. But gauging an application's suitability and business purpose against its technical obsolescence is going to be a long process and that means using DHS personnel, including those in the field, who have expertise in using these applications.

"Simply put, it takes time," Cooper said. "And what we're admitting to you is we haven't done it. This is a complex big deal and, guess what? Lives hang in the balance."

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