TSA tech work races ahead of plan

At TSA, the lack of legacy systems and cultures has been as much a disadvantage as an advantage

When the Bush administration established the Transportation Security Administration last year, experts in industry and government considered it a golden opportunity to create an information technology infrastructure that could be a model across government. TSA could be the agency where e-government and enterprise architecture are done correctly, right from the start, because the agency had no existing culture or systems to reorganize, experts said. However, the lack of legacy systems and cultures has been as much a disadvantage as an advantage,

especially when it comes to developing an enterprise architecture, according to Keith Harrington, one of TSA's new enterprise architecture managers.

Creating an enterprise architecture depends on defining an organization's business processes. Because the processes for TSA are being defined on the fly, there is nothing definite on which to base the enterprise architecture, he said.

Officials at TSA and the White House now acknowledge that they will not be able to start from scratch in developing the agency's IT enterprise architecture. Systems and networks that address TSA's immediate needs and deadlines have taken precedence over having an architecture plan in place first.

But the work continues. Harrington said he plans to develop an enterprise architecture next year that will incorporate the pieces of TSA's infrastructure that are being installed now. He spoke earlier this month at an enterprise architecture conference in Washington, D.C.

That enterprise architecture — complete with an accounting of the "as is" infrastructure, the "to be" target architecture and plans to move TSA from one to the other — should be released in May 2003, Harrington said.

Officials at the Office of Homeland Security, who are developing the enterprise architecture for the proposed Homeland Security Department, are closely watching TSA's progress because TSA is expected to become part of the new department. Those officials acknowledge that TSA will be playing catch-up as the agency tries to function day-to-day.

The hope is that Harrington and his group can steer IT acquisitions, practices and policies toward best practices already established in the government and the private sector, said Lee Holcomb, director of infostructure at the Office of Homeland Security. "If they're using best practices, then we won't have to redo too much," he said.

This may not be the optimal way to design an enterprise architecture, but the step-by-step approach should lead to a solid solution, said Robert Handler, senior program director for enterprise architecture strategies at META Group Inc. But few agencies have ever tried to put together an enterprise architecture under the high-pressure conditions in which TSA is working, he said.

Meanwhile, Harrington said he is trying to raise awareness within TSA of how an enterprise architecture can help the agency improve its ability to perform its mission.

TSA awarded its estimated $1 billion IT Managed Services contract to Unisys Corp. Aug. 2. The Office of Homeland Security is also working on an enterprise architecture for the proposed Homeland Security Department.

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