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DHS' turn in the hot seat

One popular line from the “Seinfeld” TV show ponders the ramifications of responsibility. Jerry asks, “Who wants to be responsible? Whenever anything goes wrong, the first thing they ask is: Who’s responsible for this?” Last week, lawmakers poked into the Homeland Security Department’s cybersecurity measures and asked, “Who’s responsible for this?”

Unfortunately for Scott Charbo, DHS’ chief information officer, lawmakers looked to him for an answer.

DHS and Charbo got their turn in the hot seat last week because of the agency’s troubled cybersecurity systems.

During a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology Subcommittee, lawmakers and auditors took DHS officials to task for failing to address even the low-hanging fruit.

“It was a shock and a disappointment to learn that the Department of Homeland Security — the agency charged with being the lead in our national cybersecurity — has suffered so many significant security incidents on its networks,” said Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), the subcommittee’s chairman.
DHS reported 844 cybersecurity incidents in fiscal 2005 and 2006. And lawmakers implied that DHS has been lucky rather than necessarily good.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) took to the airwaves last week to equate Charbo with Michael Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “He is clearly a long ways away from being the best-qualified person for the job,” Thompson told Federal News Radio.

For his part, Charbo said DHS was making progress. He added that the agency, which has been largely decentralized, has a new governance model that gives the CIO control of the purse strings and, therefore, more control over the agency.

Thompson, at least, was not convinced. “Our committee was very disappointed with his testimony,” he said.

So who else wants to be responsible?

#5: Pick your destiny

Question: Can information technology prolong your life? Bush administration officials say yes. The Health and Human Services Department announced last week it will use its hospital mortality databases and the Web to name the hospitals that do the best job of saving people who have heart attacks or heart failure. HHS officials said the data on the Web site,, has been adjusted to account for the severity of patients’ conditions when they enter a hospital. So go ahead, pick your destiny.

#4: Finally, a positive note
Lawmakers haven’t exactly been heaping praise on the General Services Administration lately, so GSA must’ve felt good when Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) told a conference audience last week that agencies battling acquisition workforce shortages should let GSA help them, and the audience applauded. Moran must’ve started thinking, however, because he added that he hoped the advice he just gave would not lead to GSA being overwhelmed with requests for acquisition assistance because, after all, although GSA has contracting expertise, it doesn’t have a surplus of contracting officers.

#3: Concise and free of jargon
The Government Accountability Office, in its latest pronouncement on the Coast Guard’s $24 billion Deepwater modernization program, wrote that “while the Coast Guard plans to assume more direct responsibility for Deepwater management, until it has sufficient staff with the requisite skills and abilities to execute new and expanding responsibilities, the Deepwater program will remain at risk in terms of getting what is needed, on time and at a fair price.” Who else but GAO could have written that?

#2: Travelers get a PASS
The Homeland Security Department has postponed until summer 2008 a requirement for U.S. travelers to show passports or new government-issued passenger identification cards at land and sea borders when they return home. The reason: Long lines and a major backlog in processing applications for new passports and PASS cards.

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