DHS CIO midway through IT programs review

So far no programs found to be fatally flawed

The Homeland Security Department’s senior information technology executives are about halfway done reviewing each of the department’s 79 major IT programs and, so far, none have been slated to be killed, according to DHS chief information officer Richard Spires.

Spires said he undertook the review after he began as CIO last year to identify ways to help troubled programs in the near-term and to look for systemic weaknesses in program management and figure out fixes for those problems. The 79 programs account for the vast majority of the $6.4 billion for DHS IT spending that the Obama administration requested for fiscal 2011, Spires said Feb. 4 during an event hosted by the American Council for Technology - Industry Advisory Council in Washington.

“I haven’t seen one of them yet that isn’t important" to DHS’ mission, Spires said. “Obviously if we see a program that isn’t or if we see a program that we think is fatally flawed we’re prepared to cut it off, but every one we’ve seen so far – and we’ve seen some of the big ones – we think, with help, that we can get these things on the right track.”

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Spires said there are pockets of excellence across DHS’ IT programs, but there are also some very troubled programs. He added that what bothers him the most is that DHS has very little departmentwide institutionalization of process disciplines, standards and tools for IT programs, so the maturity of programs varies widely.

“I’m hoping that one of the things I can look back on and say we really made a significant difference in [is] maturing the processes to manage and effectively deliver IT and make it more strategic for the organization,” he said.

Meanwhile, Spires also said his office is increasing the percentage of its workers who are federal employees rather than contractors. He said when he started his position there were about 100 federal employees compared with around 700 contractors working for the DHS’ Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO). Spires said that ratio doesn’t allow for proper oversight and leadership. He said the office now has 165 feds and the OCIO is moving to have more than 200 this year.

“It’s not that we don’t value the contractors – we really do,” he said. “But there’s a lot of inherently governmental work.... There’s just certain things that we have to do as government employees that we really can’t ask contractors to do.”

Spires and DHS’ Deputy CIO Margaret Graves identified seven goals for department’s IT:

  • Improve IT performance.
  • Accelerate the department’s data center consolidation project and complete the OneNet program to collapse the department’s legacy networks.
  • Broaden and deepen the department’s enterprise architecture.
  • Maintain cybersecurity focus, continue work on putting in place Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 requirements for interoperable identification cards.
  • Foster improved internal and external information sharing.
  • Ensure operational excellence.
  • Bolster government IT employee base.

Meanwhile, Graves said so far DHS had migrated five of its 24 legacy data centers to the department’s two enterprise data centers and plans to migrate five other major centers this year. Graves also said the department will be moving to combine its network operations center and its security operations center into one enterprise operations center.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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