Holcomb: Katrina could shift DHS priorities

The disorganized and delayed federal response to Hurricane Katrina will likely alter the Homeland Security Department’s priorities, DHS’ chief technology officer said today.

“I expect a changing, a realigning of the department’s mission around natural disasters,” CTO Lee Holcomb said at an industry breakfast sponsored by Input, a market research firm.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged last July in his top-to-bottom review of departmental operations that DHS needs to improve its overall preparedness, including for catastrophic natural events, Holcomb said.

“We at the department are not well prepared, and unfortunately, recent history has shown that that’s the case,” Holcomb said.

He said he expects the six-point agenda for change that Chertoff released with the review will be revised.

Weaknesses in the National Response Plan also became evident last week, Holcomb said. Introduced in January, the plan provides a standardized federal response coordinated with state, local and tribal jurisdictions to any manmade or natural disaster.

DHS continues to build and improve its information technology capabilities, Holcomb said. The department completed its first full inventory of its IT systems last month, and will certify and accredit the nearly 800 systems in the next year, he said.

The department introduced two IT buying programs last month to implement the changes. DHS has issued draft requests for proposals for First Source, which would cover IT commodities, and Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge (EAGLE), which would cover IT support services.

To encourage small-business participation, only companies with 150 employees or fewer can bid on First Source. EAGLE will have open bid solicitations in addition to those for small businesses. An Enterprise Solutions Office will oversee both programs.

DHS will continue to emphasize improvements in information sharing, particularly for role-based access to information, Holcomb said. Chertoff is reviewing a policy statement on information sharing, and Holcomb said he hopes to hear a final answer soon.

DHS has increased its participation in the Integrated Wireless Network initiative in the past six months by hiring 15 additional people, Holcomb said.

The network won’t be folded into EAGLE, he said, but the department will have to work out how the network will work with other programs such as the border security initiative.

Cybersecurity continues to be a concern at DHS, Holcomb said. “Our department has a pretty poor record in terms of our own internal systems, and we have a long way to go to fix them,” he said.

The department has made progress by certifying and accrediting its Homeland Secure Data Network, which shares classified data with 600 law enforcement and intelligence agencies, he said.

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