Justice to merge info-sharing programs

Justice Department officials expect to release a plan this spring for consolidating dozens of information-sharing programs.

About half of Justice's $2 billion information technology budget is spent on information-sharing initiatives, which make up about half of the department's 120 major IT projects, said Vance Hitch, the department's chief information officer. The various programs — most started before he assumed the position two years ago — only loosely coordinate.

"I saw this as a big problem" for delivering the department's mission and spending IT dollars wisely, Hitch said, speaking this morning at an event hosted by National Business Promotions and Conferences Inc.

Hitch said he expects to release a plan in April for the Law Enforcement Information Sharing (LEIS) initiative to promote data exchange among federal, state and local law enforcement officials. The document will show how existing programs will fit into the LEIS and outline what is needed to make consolidated information-sharing a reality, Hitch said.

"It's going to kind of set the direction," he said. "This is going to be an ongoing thing. We'll probably have Phase One, Two, Three. We'll probably have a program office."

Hitch said he approached Attorney General John Ashcroft about LEIS because it needs top management support to succeed.

"This is not [only] an IT project," though it will have IT ramifications, Hitch said. "This is really a law enforcement project, and therefore I need a lot of help."

He spent nearly two years reorganizing the Office of the CIO, developing an IT strategic plan and shifting the department culture from decentralized to an enterprisewide approach. In addition to the information-sharing project, Hitch expects to roll out several enterprise solutions this year.

For example, the integrated wireless network is a massive communications effort with the Homeland Security Department that is likely to span a decade and cost billions of dollars, Hitch said. The network will manage radio communications for all law enforcement personnel at Justice and DHS. The project is currently in a pilot phase in Seattle and will roll out soon nationwide, Hitch said. A contract has not been awarded on the wireless network yet. Officials have hired an acquisition planning contractor to determine the best procurement strategy from several possibilities being considered.

Also, Justice officials expect to award a contract in about a month for the Justice Unified Telecommunications Network, a data, voice and image network replacing the outdated Justice Consolidated Network. The award will end what Hitch described as a long procurement process.

He said officials also plan to award a contract for the software piece of the department's Unified Financial Management System, although the integrator contract will come later. The back-office system has been delayed by internal and budget problems, Hitch said.

And officials plan to improve IT investment management and contractor management, he said. Many of the department's IT problems stem from the initiation of a project with contractors, and officials need to examine the contracting process and move toward performance-based contracts, Hitch said.

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