Security's bottom line

Is it working? That's the simple question that can be asked of an enormous and expensive effort in which the goal is to protect the United States and its citizens from the threat of terrorism. Put more directly, are we safer now than we were two years ago before the strikes in Washington, D.C., and New York City?

Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to those kinds of questions. But there are some things we can evaluate to get a better sense of how much progress we've made and whether we are getting the most out of the money we're spending, an exercise that we tackle in this special report. Our analysis takes into account the processes the government is using to plan, fund and manage security efforts. We also evaluate the results embodied in the programs and the systems they have produced.

Of course, Federal Computer Week's primary focus is on systems that involve information technology. As it turns out, this special interest is well suited to reviewing homeland security initiatives because so many of them depend heavily on IT-based

systems to create, share and analyze information.

In the lead story, we assess progress on six critical fronts, among them entry/exit controls, transportation security and tools for emergency responders. As the article illustrates, progress has been uneven. In fairness, the initiatives did not all begin from the same starting line in terms of previous funding and program maturity.

The fuel propelling all of those programs is money, and how that money is allocated and distributed is the subject of another story in our report. Cities and states blame each other for funding problems that delay many homeland security programs. What the two camps do share is the conviction that the federal government — the source of most of the money — must provide more money and better leadership in how to spend it effectively.

As we know, spending money wisely on IT programs is not easy even in the best of times, but the challenge grows when the high stakes of homeland security are in play. Encouraging developments on this front are covered in our story on enterprise architectures. This once esoteric exercise in modeling the business processes and supporting IT systems of an organization is being recognized and embraced as a way to help government make better IT spending decisions, particularly in the area of homeland security.

Our last story reminds us that although money is crucial to all these programs, another critical asset is the people who work in government. On one level, our story is about the resources that are available — in most cases for free — to help government IT security managers do their jobs better even when budgets are tight. On another level, it underscores the fact that much of our success will come from the creativity, dedication and resourcefulness of government employees, and that's something that can't be bought.

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