DHS enterprise network making headway, official says

A senior official said Customs and Border Protection's effort to integrate the Homeland Security Department agencies' networks into a single network is about two-thirds complete.

The OneNet network-integration project is in a transition phase that entails getting DHS agencies to use a common data-carrying mechanism and bring the sites under the control and oversight of DHS’ Network Operations Center and Homeland Security Operations Center, said Kenneth Ritchhart, deputy assistant commissioner at CBP's Office of Information and Technology.

He added that officials plan to finish the process of getting all DHS agencies to comply with the government's Trusted Internet Connections initiative in the next month — the next major OneNet milestone.

CBP is the steward of DHS’ large-scale information technology infrastructure overhaul, which officials say will offer significant improvements in security, interoperability and manageability. The agency has been working on the project since 2006.

As part of OneNet, CBP is also helping other DHS agencies resolve potential conflicts between their IP addresses, create trust zones and establish standards that will allow for seamless capabilities across the department, Ritchhart said.

“We have to be able to do information sharing,” he said. “To do information sharing, it’s not just a question of exchanging data, it’s a question of doing it securely, and we are under increasing assault…so security is really a key issue we are going to have to deal with.”

Full integration into OneNet cannot occur until all the sites are connected to one another and the directories establish a shared trust, Ritchhart added. He noted that law enforcement agencies, such as CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), will benefit from the ability to access one another’s directories.

By the end of December, several major DHS components’ networks will be linked, including CBP, DHS headquarters, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, ICE, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Transportation Security Administration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service will be added by the end of next year, he said.

Ritchhart noted that FEMA is still working on moving to the newer data-carrying mechanism called Multiprotocol Label Switching.

After the agencies’ networks are fully integrated, OneNet will begin offering additional services, including those related to wireless, voice over IP and virtual private networks.

Last month, DHS awarded Verizon and AT&T contracts worth up to $971 million in the next 10 years to provide a range of those services, including network portals, managed network services, Internet access, remote access and the new Emergency Communications Services that DHS will deploy to improve responses to man-made and natural disasters. Verizon was hired as the primary provider and will receive up to $678.5 million while AT&T, as the backup provider, will receive a maximum of $292 million.

Ritchhart said CBP officials are confident that they have built a robust vehicle that will support DHS for the term of that contract.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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