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FCW Insider: Buzzing about DHS's leadership

We've had a number of calls and e-mails about what is happening at the leadership at the Homeland Security Department.

There has been all sorts of talk that DHS CIO Scott Charbo leaving that post. The question is -- where.

And then there is a graph buried in this story about Tony Cira, chief information officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who left last week.

DHS CIO Scott Charbo is rumored to be moving to the Transportation Security Administration as CIO. DHS Deputy CIO Charlie Armstrong also is rumored to be leaving headquarters sometime soon to go to a component agency.

These few words apparently sent the rumor mill on fire over the weekend.

This is one of these situations where we have been hearing talk for weeks -- and, in fact, we all but know that Charbo is going to leave DHS CIO position. We haven't been able to write about it because:

1. Nobody will talk to us. (My e-mails to Charbo have gone unanswered.)
2. Details are not finalized.

We certainly understand that these two points are related. We also understand that it takes time to get all the pieces in place, inform the people who need to be informed, etc. In this case, the quandary for us is that this has been in the buzz mill for weeks.

Sometimes getting something out there on the record helps move the process along -- it helps cut through the red tape.

Among the calls and e-mails I have received today, here is what I'm hearing.

My sense is that Charbo will be stepping down from the DHS CIO post, but that he will not be going to TSA. Most people believe that he will be moving on, but, as I said up front, it is unclear where as of right now. There are several possibilities, but those have not been nailed down.

And... if Charbo's future is not clear, it is really unclear where deputy CIO Charlie Armstrong will do. That is, in part, because it is unclear who would end up as DHS CIO when/if Charbo moves on to another post.

So... is that all clear now?

I'd love to present 'just the facts,' but I don't think the facts haven't been ironed out. If DHS officials don't know that this is the talk of the town, maybe that fact will help spur some decisions.

Just in case we all forget, this is one of the most important IT jobs in government. Not only is DHS an enormous agency with a critically important mission, but the CIO is at the heart of bringing the agency together in some unified way. That is no small task and, from what I'm hearing, there is still a long way to go.

People's perception of DHS is that it is a mess. BusinessWeek had this series of stories last December, headlined, "Homeland Insecurity."

Yet, it is interesting that during the presidential campaign, even with talk of change and who would be a better manager, there has been little discussion about how the candidates would deal with the Homeland Security Department.

The NYT, in a Jan. 11 editorial, stressed that it is a vitally important issue. (I'm providing an excerpt here, but the entire editorial is worth reading.)

Voters in the 2008 elections need to hear in detail how the presidential candidates intend to wrestle the sprawling homeland security apparatus into sync with the true state of the terrorist threat. That critical connection has become befogged in years of hyperbolic alarms, official ineptitude, enormous spending and political sleight of hand.

So far, terrorism and homeland security have been treated as a melodramatic premise for campaign commercials about atrocities past rather than a way for contenders to plainly say what they’ve learned since 9/11 — and what needs to be changed...

But a real-life debate of the terrorism issue is lacking — one that should focus on the messy reality of the Department of Homeland Security, the behemoth created in 2003 by consolidating 22 separate agencies and 220,000 employees to guard against attack and deal with the aftermath. The department’s shortcomings were excruciating to witness after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, Congressional investigators found the department failing to meet even half its own performance expectations. Critical shortcomings exist in emergency communications, computer integration, border defense and information sharing.

The department disputes these findings, and no fair American envies the huge challenge befalling the homeland mega-agency. But voters need to hear the candidates on domestic risks as much as on the Iraq surge. How hard would they work to enact Congress’s mandate to screen all seaborne containers heading for ports in the United States and the air cargo on all passenger planes within the next five years? How would the candidates repair the years of slippage reported in the long-promised program to effectively screen passengers against terrorist watch lists — a core weakness enabling the 9/11 suicide attacks? And which candidates promise a strong fight against the wasting of antiterrorist grants on political feather-bedding of low-risk localities?...

Voters should demand clearer judgments and firmer prescriptions from the politicians vying to take responsibility for securing the homeland.

It is an issue that deserves debate.

Posted by Christopher J. Dorobek on Jan 28, 2008 at 12:17 PM


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