On the CIO agenda: Do even more with less

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"Saving by sharing"

Doing more with less has been the mantra for several years. But federal, state and local information technology executives faced with looming homeland security threats are now finding that they have to do more with less and do it now.

For federal chief information officers, the most pressing problem is integrating homeland security into their mission and doing it with little new money. For state and local CIOs, homeland security has become intertwined with a similar hurdle: mounting budget deficits and no money to waste.

An informal survey of CIOs attending the CIO Summit, "Managing Across Government," sponsored by FCW Media Group in Fort Myers, Fla., last week, found they are all facing similar challenges and problems: integrating security into their IT structures; doing it with little money; and doing it today instead of tomorrow.

"I think a lot of people want us to say, 'No more 9/11s' and there's no bulletproof way to say that," said S.W. "Woody" Hall Jr., CIO at the Customs Service, who has been working to help integrate parts of 22 federal agencies into the proposed Homeland Security Department.

In the 14 months since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the slumping economy has left many state and local CIOs with shrinking budgets, even as their to-do lists have grown. With most federal dollars bottled up until Congress passes fiscal 2003 appropriations bills, CIOs are left looking for creative approaches to fund homeland security and other priority projects.

Working With Industry

The budget crunch is not nearly as tight for federal agencies. Still, federal CIOs are under enormous pressure to find savings, eliminate redundant systems and streamline their IT investments to get the biggest bang for the buck.

That means a more collaborative environment, according to Melissa Chapman, CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services.

"We're certainly committed to IT consolidation," she said. But "we have to be careful not to fall into the traditional ways of integrating data."

One of the major initiatives is a better partnership with industry, using managed services — handling some functions in government and others outside government — to save money and deliver more efficient systems.

And with that approach comes the need for even stronger partnerships, according to George Bohlinger, executive associate commissioner for management at the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"We have decided we have to partner with industry much sooner than we do," he said. "Going out with a [request for proposals] is not the way to do it. Go to industry with a [request for information]. We want industry to come in early and propose a solution."

The new way of thinking stretches across the board. "When the president signed the [INS] entry/exit bill, he said we were going to rely on the smart use of technology," said Mark Forman, associate director for IT and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget.

While information sharing and collaboration across government has become the mantra of federal CIOs, there is also great pressure to build a successful CIO organization, according to Dave McClure, vice president of e-government for the Council for Excellence in Government.

"CIOs once focused on systems," he said. "Today, the CIO sits in a much wider area. They are sometimes doing the role of the secretary of state."

New Missions

Even the missions of many agencies have changed since the terrorist attacks, according to Tony Cicco, the General Accounting Office's CIO.

In the wake of the anthrax attacks, Cicco said his agency shifted from dealing with natural disasters to other kinds of disaster scenarios. GAO's office, situated just blocks away from the U.S. Capitol, has now become the backup site for the House of Representatives. And GAO is now responsible for maintaining the continuity of House operations.

"We expanded our enterprise," he said. "We're now positioned to support the House in various scenarios."

A lot of basic plans "don't envision terrorism," said Ed Meagher, deputy CIO at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But since Sept. 11, VA officials have been working on closing the infrastructure gaps that "hadn't been so obvious before" and doing it without a lot of money.

To get control of IT spending across the vast VA empire that includes more than 160 hospitals, VA Secretary Anthony Principi consolidated IT spending under CIO John Gauss.

"This year, we're under a lot of pressure to deliver results," Meagher said. But he asked, "How do I keep the lights on or do these new investments? What do I cut? We can't outsource the mission."

Better management is the way to do it, according to Customs' Hall. "Increasingly, technology is being managed more than it's ever been in the past," he said.

Still, as the economic slump continues, budget woes may only get worse, several CIOs say.

Budget Struggles

Some IT departments already have been through several years of cuts. Gene Estensen, CIO for Marietta, Ga., said his government has been cutting costs for years. Technology has helped control costs by keeping down staff numbers, he said, but that only goes so far. "Where do we get the next round of efficiencies?"

In Minnesota, a regional initiative to provide more than 200 jurisdictions with a common class of high-tech 800 MHz radios has suffered as budgets have been cut, said Hennepin County Commissioner Randy Johnson.

The 800 MHz radio systems are intended to replace outdated equipment and, by standardizing on common technology, improve communications among public safety agencies across the region. So far, though, only 80 or 90 jurisdictions — accounting for roughly half of the intended users — have taken part in the program, according to county officials.

What's more, training has proven to be a stumbling block for agencies that had money for the radios. "Everyone has underestimated the amount of training involved," Johnson said.

In numerous cases, however, CIOs have found that planned or ongoing IT projects have dovetailed nicely with homeland security concerns.

The concept of an integrated justice system — allowing police, courts and juvenile justice and other agencies to exchange information electronically — has taken on new importance with the growing interest in information sharing.

"I have to give credit to our Department of Justice," Kentucky CIO Aldona Valicenti said. "They are the ones who recognized the importance of standards and the importance of architecture."

Law enforcement officials, for example, are concerned that a police officer might pull someone over for a traffic violation, issue a ticket, and then let the person go without ever knowing that the person was wanted for a far more serious crime in another jurisdiction.

There is a tremendous flow of data, said Alisoun Moore, CIO of Montgomery County, Md., and information systems are more critical to carrying out the mission. "If that information falls through the cracks, that doesn't mean I pay an invoice late — it means somebody could die."

Montgomery County officials plan to award a contract next year to develop an integrated justice system, which they are partially funding through a federal homeland security grant.

For now, most state and local CIOs say they want leadership from the federal government, not just money. Feds need to set clear objectives for homeland security and provide clear technical standards for equipment.

Despite such concerns, CIOs say the homeland security work will get done.

Homeland security "is something we have to do," said Carolyn Purcell, Texas' CIO. "There are going to be things that cost money, [but] we will do whatever we can with the resources we have."

NEXT STORY: Treasury CIO moves on

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