GAO sees need for DHS tech framework

Homeland Security Should Better Balance Need for System Integration Strategy with Spending for New and Enhanced Systems

The Homeland Security Department needs to rework and curtail spending on various information technology investments worth billions of dollars until its strategic IT framework is defined and implemented, General Accounting Office officials said.

DHS needs an IT framework to effectively and efficiently integrate the department's 22 component agencies into "a homogenous family of systems that optimally support departmentwide operations and mission performance," GAO auditors said.

The chief information officer is committed to doing just that, but steps taken so far run the risk "that today's IT systems investments will have to be redone tomorrow to produce the target systems environment," congressional auditors said.

GAO pointed out that DHS CIO Steve Cooper's office has limited staffing; higher priorities, such as creating an enterprise wide e-mail system; and "near-term, high-payoff opportunities, such as consolidating wireless communication capabilities." The department has yet to give the CIO explicit authority over all of its IT spending, according to the report.

DHS has taken steps, including having various departmental investment review boards approve major projects, letting agencies follow strategic IT management structures and processes prior to the creation of the DHS, and facilitating meetings between agency staff working on major IT projects and staff working on the department's strategic framework.

"While these steps have merit, they do not provide adequate assurance of strategic alignment across the department," the report said.

In the report, Pamela Turner, DHS' assistant secretary for legislative affairs, responded by describing the department's mission as complex and restated the major areas of focus. She said that DHS and its CIO Council have established eight priorities involving IT functions and are in the process of creating a business case, blueprint, tasks and deliverables to achieve them.

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