Cooper, Congress look to reshape chain of command

Congressional Democrats recently branded the Homeland Security Department’s IT management as less than effective and blamed it on “an organizationally weak DHS CIO’s office.”

“There is little or no direct authority over the divisional CIOs within the department and the hundreds of disparate legacy systems and projects that they manage,” the Democrats, members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, said in a report, America at Risk: Closing the Security Gap.

Republicans have noticed, too. Members of the select committee from both parties are supporting the idea of raising the activities of DHS’ Management Directorate—which includes the CIO—into the office of the deputy secretary.

The upshot is that the CIO’s office would gain more direct control over component agencies’ IT management. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Science, and Research and Development, said the proposal, which has not yet been formally introduced, would get DHS agencies “singing off the same sheet of music.”

Regardless of new legislation, DHS CIO Steve Cooper has started a comprehensive renovation of the department’s IT governance structure.

The thrust is to concentrate responsibility for three IT areas across the department’s five directorates into the CIO’s office.

The principal IT areas are enterprise solutions, mission-specific applications and IT infrastructure.

Under Cooper’s plan, key IT personnel in each agency would report directly to Cooper’s office instead of reporting up through the IT management structure within their directorates.

“That’s a change because, before we started this transformation, they reported vertically [to their own CIOs],” Cooper said. “What we’ve done is change their line of reporting.”

Cooper said his office is forming an integrated infrastructure leadership team that will report to Alan Shelton, director of infrastructure in the CIO’s office.

A horizontal flow of communication across DHS will help facilitate moving the department to a single, integrated IT infrastructure by December 2005. “The only way I can do that is to centralize everybody related to infrastructure and the IT function,” he said.

The department is “already under way with this transformation,” he said. “We are reasonably far along. We’ve vetted this within the department, the executive leadership has signed off on it and this is in motion.”

Outside the department, some observers think a new IT governance structure will boost the department’s IT efforts.

“It will help if [Cooper] has more vested authority in his office,” said a source close to the IT industry who asked not to be identified. “Somebody has to make the ultimate decisions, because a department with a mission as critical as DHS can’t rely strictly on casual democracy to make things happen.”

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