DHS agencies starting to integrate missions, CIO says

The Homeland Security Department is beginning to integrate some of its core missions—such as developing an expanded common operating picture for multiple agencies--as part of its efforts to create “One DHS,” Chief Information Officer Richard Spires said on May 11.

Departmental officials recently identified 13 major missions that stretch across its 22 component agencies, and has begun consolidating and integrating various programs in those mission areas, Spires said at a meeting of the Northern Virginia chapter of AFCEA.

The goal is to create the synergies that were envisioned by Congress in creating the department in 2003.

For example, as part of the mission to provide situational awareness in operations centers, DHS component agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Customs and Border Protection, and National Protection and Programs Directorate have created more than 20 common operating pictures (COPS), Spires said.

“So much for being ‘common,’” Spires said. “We have all these COPS, but no real integration.”

The common operating pictures are typically software mapping platforms that can display and integrate incoming information into a readily understandable format. For example, FEMA’s operating picture in its main emergency operations center can display a map with visual information about weather conditions, locations of FEMA personnel and assets, main transportation routes, areas of damaged structures or roads and location of shelters, among other data.

The department also has operating pictures for border security, cybersecurity, maritime conditions and others.

As part of the integration project, the department recently created an upgraded common operating picture with multiple feeds and has deployed it at the National Operations Center at DHS headquarters, Spires said.

“We are starting to unify the COPs across the department,” he said. The next step is  collaborating further with other federal agencies, and with state and local agencies, he added.

DHS officials also are looking at integrating some of the 117 identity screening programs across the department, including at the Transportation Security Administration, CBP and Coast Guard.

“We do a lot of screening and we have a lot of different systems,” he said.

What makes the consolidations of programs possible is information-sharing in part through the National Information Exchange Model, an Extensible Markup Language model that standardizes vocabularies and formats for some types of communications and data collection.

NIEM started with law enforcement, and now has maritime, cybersecurity and health care as well.

“What is the best investment in government I have ever seen? It turns out it is the small investment we have made in NIEM,” Spires said.



About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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