Homeland Security's 2005 priorities

Steve Cooper, the Homeland Security Department's chief information officer, and DHS' CIO Council have five priorities for 2005. In a modified transcript of a recent interview, Cooper explains the importance of the department's priorities:

* Transform the enterprise

"Transform the enterprise" is a slogan for using information technology, including services, products and capabilities, to help DHS officials achieve their mission of truly becoming one department, Cooper said. Several 2004 priorities, including information sharing and enterprise architecture, have become components of transforming the enterprise.

"The information-sharing program and support thereto from the IT function continues in" fiscal 2005, he said. "We've put dollars and people into the program office, which has been established for information sharing."

For enterprise architecture, the focus is now on using it. "One, we want to use the enterprise architecture to guide investment decisions around IT," Cooper said. "Secondly, we want to use the enterprise architecture to identify and act upon transformational opportunities for DHS," he said. One example is screening coordination, which means "bringing together all of the applications, systems and initiatives that deal with screening -- cargo, people, conveyance."

"Another area is credentialing," he said. "We have the [Transportation Workers Identity Credentialing] program. We've got additional identity credentialing initiatives and projects, applications. Let's figure out how do we rationalize them, bring them together."

Other areas include law enforcement, immigration management, incident management and domain awareness. "Domain awareness...is just another way of saying, 'What's the situational awareness that the department needs to pay attention to?'" he said. "And that includes maritime domain awareness as well as land activities.... We have identified, through our enterprise architecture, opportunities for transformation, and now we're going to bring those to the business owners and see if we can't move those things forward."

* "Secure the homeland":

In 2004, the department received an "F" for poor compliance with Federal Information Security Management Act requirements. Less than 34 percent of the department's applications and systems were accredited and certified, he said. Cooper said he knew the department would not get 100 percent of the systems certified and accredited, but the purpose was to make IT security "part and parcel of everything the IT function did. Get it on people's minds."

"Let's move from 34 percent to something a lot more than that," he said. "Well, in '04, we actually completed, disseminated and published a robust IT security program. We got handbooks out to all of the information security managers. We provided security training for the employees of the department. We moved from 34 percent to 68 percent accreditation. Now I defy anybody to tell me that's not progress, that that's not tangible, significant value added to the security of this department and to the mission of the [DHS]. And we do have goals in '05 to move to 85 percent."

Although Cooper said the goal is to get 100 percent certified and accredited "because that's the right answer," the idea is to motivate people. It's as much about organizational and cultural change as it is about the numbers, he said.

"I've got plenty of people who are happy to criticize the hard numbers, and I'll accept that and take responsibility," he said. "Hold me accountable for hard numbers."

* Finish the foundation

This priority refers to the department's infrastructure transformation. "I liken it to building a house," he said. "We've actually been digging down in the basement and pouring the cement...and laying some pipe and doing stuff, but it's all below ground. So if you're standing up, looking for the front door, we haven't built that yet. As we move toward the end of 2004, figuratively speaking, you'll now see us framing the house. We have the solid footing upon which we can build the house, erect the walls and put the roof on."

Five major project areas will comprise DHS officials' focus on infrastructure transformation in 2005. They include e-mail and Microsoft Active Directory services; network services; IT operations, such as the department's global network operating center; the global security operating center; help-desk services and data-center consolidation.

Another part of this priority is the portfolio management initiative, which "brings formal methodology to the identification, categorization and value assessment of all of our IT applications," he said. "This is not something that we created on our own inside the department. We are following best practices from, in this case, the private sector and we are applying tools and methodologies that exist in the commercial marketplace to bring to bear process rigor and process methodology inside the department."

For example, he said, officials assessed the department's top 100 major investments to determine their business suitability and technical capability. The good news, Cooper said, is that only one or two failed in both regards, which means they should be retired. There were "a lot more [initiatives] than we anticipated" that exceeded both measurements.

* Stand up the start-ups

This priority is a "way of saying the significant part of the new department was itself brand-new, meaning it didn't exist as legacy organizations," Cooper said. That includes the Management Directorate, the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate (IAIP), the Science and Technology Directorate, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Office of the Secretary.

"So there's new capability that they never had that they need to carry out their business," he said. "We differentiate that from 'finish the foundation' because the foundation was built upon existing infrastructure. Hence, we said we need to bring a focus to helping people understand we need to provide some capability to [the] newest parts of the department that didn't previously exist."

For example, IAIP needs software tools and analytical tools, while Science and Technology officials are interested in using the CIO office's portfolio management toolset to assess their research and development investments. "But they want some additional tools and applications to help them do their job in managing research and development, test and evaluation for the entire department," Cooper said.

* Empower the IT workforce

This priority -- which was also a priority in 2004 -- is, in a sense, creating a human enterprise architecture for the department's IT employees.

"One of things that I certainly acknowledge and that we've admitted internally -- and I've mentioned it once or twice publicly -- is we didn't pay enough attention to our people," Cooper said. "It's that simple. [It's] not because we deliberately neglected them. We knew we needed to pay more attention, but there were quite simply higher priorities in establishing the department."

DHS officials want to take several steps, such as identifying the skills workers need for the next five years, to improve the IT workforce, he said. "And we need to map out what skill sets are missing and how do we 're-skill' our people, how do we get them the training we need and what's our plan," Cooper added.

"We need to ensure that every IT employee has a career development plan as they work with their supervisor and look at training opportunities, learning opportunities, and how do they become more effective in what they want to accomplish in their careers as well as what we need for the department," he said.

DHS officials are also assessing the demographics of the department's IT workforce. "And we're finding some stuff that causes us concern," Cooper said. "About 38 percent of our IT workforce can retire today. Well, that would be OK if we had replacements sitting on the bench ready to go. We don't. So we as an IT leadership team -- the CIO Council -- we need to do succession planning, we need to ensure that we're training our next generation of leadership."

He also said the department cannot compete with the private sector to attract IT workers from a compensation standpoint. However, the private sector cannot offer the department's mission.

"Quite frankly, if you want to be at the heart of what's going on in the federal government and information with regard to homeland security, you can't do that anywhere else other than this department," he said.

"Individuals have to decide -- 'Do I want to be at the heart, the center of all this stuff or do I want to make a little bit more money?'" Cooper added. "That's individual choice, and there's no value that we apply to that. But we absolutely want to ensure that we are providing the best opportunities for the dedicated men and women who want to come to work in the federal government, and we'd like to entice those people to come to work" at DHS.

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