FEMA embarks on IT upgrades

New strategy will enable the agency to use DHS administrative systems

Fiscal 2008 Homeland Security Department Authorization Act

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to make up for what it says has been a decade of information technology neglect. In the next six months, FEMA will upgrade many of its back-office systems and submit a fiscal 2009 budget proposal loaded with requests for IT project money.

Tony Cira, FEMA’s chief information officer, said the agency needs to synchronize business functions agencywide and share information among its accounting, finance, procurement and human resources organizations.“The way we are set up now causes mistakes and costs to rise,” said Cira, who has been CIO since November 2006.

FEMA’s hardware is about seven years old on average, and its data network is about 10 years old. “Neither one supports the level of collaboration the agency needs,” said Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson, FEMA’s deputy administrator and chief operating officer.

Cira said FEMA will use the General Services Administration’s Networx telecommunications contract to upgrade its network backbone beginning in January 2008 — after the 2007 hurricane season.

FEMA hired auditors to analyze 17 business functions, including procurement, human resources and financial management, and the results were worse than expected.

 “We found out we had no business processes, no metrics and no accountability,” Johnson said. The auditors provided documentation that will help program managers and executives address the problems.

“We are about [four] months into the post-audit work,” Johnson said. “In some areas, we just need to change the organizational structure or update policies and procedures. But in others, it is about investment, especially in IT.”

Cira said one of the first planned changes will be to move payroll processing to the Agriculture Department’s National Finance Center and various human resources functions to the Homeland Security Department’s MaxHR system.

By the end of the summer, FEMA will begin using the Customs and Border Protection agency’s financial management system, which runs SAP software. And by winter, FEMA will move to Prism, DHS’ standard contracting system.

“We pretty much will move to anything within the department that we can standardize on,” Cira said. “It will lessen our support costs,” he said, and the integration will improve the flow of information.

In addition to upgrading its administrative systems, FEMA also expects to improve its disaster management systems, said Marko Bourne, the agency’s director of policy. He said FEMA needs better logistics technology and improved imagery and mapping services.

Bourne said the agency would like to mine more detail from maps and geographic information systems. FEMA also needs more advanced modeling technology to use in responding to natural or manmade disasters, he said.

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