Unisys starts work on TSA systems

Putting to rest some of the uncertainty about the availability of information technology funding, the Transportation Security Administration last week awarded the first two work orders for its IT infrastructure.

TSA, which has been building its organization from scratch since Congress created the agency in November 2001 in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, awarded work orders Aug. 13.

TSA announced earlier this month that it had selected Unisys Corp. to work on its Information Technology Managed Services (ITMS) program, providing the agency with core information systems and services.

Before proceeding, though, TSA had to undergo an investment review process as one of the agencies slated to become part of the proposed Homeland Security Department.

Now work can begin, TSA officials say.

The first order covers the creation of an enterprise operations center, which includes installing a data center that houses the agency's central computing and storage systems, and a security operations center, a centralized location for protecting systems, according to Megan Russell, the ITMS contracting officer.

The second order covers IT equipment, such as asset management and wireless, local-area, wide-area and virtual private networks, for TSA headquarters, 429 airports nationwide and field offices, Russell said.

For fiscal 2002, the first order is worth $15.1 million and the second is worth $8.2 million, Russell said. The funding for fiscal 2003 is estimated at $67.5 million and $154 million for each order, respectively.

"I've been claiming victory for about a week now," Patrick Schambach, TSA associate undersecretary for information and security technology, told an audience of federal IT contractors last week. "We finally have some money attached to this thing, and we're moving forward."

TSA officials met with a board led by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Homeland Security, which evaluated the work orders and approved their funding.

"I'm not going to let the bureaucrats [get] in the way of letting us make progress," Schambach, who is also TSA's chief information officer, joked at a Federal Sources Inc. breakfast Aug. 14 in McLean, Va.

But he added, "They are sticking to their word. We are getting same-day decisions going through that process."

ITMS emphasizes managed services, a relatively new procurement strategy in which an agency pays a company for technology solutions that help fulfill defined goals as set out by its mission.

"We're telling them what we need to accomplish. How the technology is going to enable that, we want [them] to solve," Schambach said. "We understand that technology, however advanced, is simply a facilitator to achieving business results."

The managed services approach has received cautious praise from the federal IT community. "My hope, for the sake of TSA, is that it goes forward in an orderly fashion and they don't just start throwing technology on the desks," said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of consulting services at FSI. "You start a new organization, and you [have] nothing. It demonstrates how information technology has become so critical to government operations."

To get the job done, Unisys has teamed with DynCorp and IBM Corp. as well as 28 smaller companies. "We're starting today," said Michael Glaser, the Unisys account executive for the contract.

In addition to developing the IT infrastructure, the Unisys team will help integrate the passenger and baggage screening system, which TSA is deploying as part of its mandate, according to Ira Kirsch, president of the federal government group at Unisys. In the future, the team will work on application development, he said.

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