DHS should boost CIO, experts say

DHS should have its CIO report directly to the secretary and deputy secretary, officials tell Congress.

The Homeland Security Department needs to elevate its chief information officer to report directly to the department’s secretary and deputy secretary, current and former government officials told Congress today.

The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Integration and Oversight heard recommendations at a hearing today from several experts, including DHS’ former chief of border and transportation security and the department’s acting and former inspector generals.

The author of a report issued today by the Government Accountability Office made the same CIO recommendation to elevate the position.

In the current DHS hierarchy, the CIO reports to Janet Hale, DHS undersecretary for management.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has started a top-to-bottom review of how the department operates. Among other things, the review will look at who will replace Steve Cooper as the Homeland Security CIO, and how much power that person will have.

Information technology is crucial to all DHS operations, so the CIO must have direct contact with the department's leaders, said Asa Hutchinson, former director of the department's Border and Transportation Directorate and now head of the Homeland Security Group at Venable.

The CIO should have the power to make decisions that affect the entire department, said Norman Rabkin, managing director for homeland security and justice at the Government Accountability Office. GAO officials believe that would DHS enact the report's other recommendations, which include limiting IT investments until the department has enough management control to makes sure its billions in spending are made wisely.

"Overall, DHS has made some progress, but significant management challenges remain to transform DHS into a more efficient organization while maintaining and improving its effectiveness in security the homeland," the report concluded.

The challenges include improving strategic planning and security, developing an enterprise architecture, and establishing a framework to manage its IT infrastructure, the report read.

Richard Skinner, DHS' acting inspector general, said that the promotion would not take long to implement. The CIO currently has the resources to meet many of the department's goals, he said, but lacks the ability to oversee and direct resources. He estimated it would take less than a year for an elevated CIO to make real changes in the department.

"IT transcends all department operations and someone needs to be in a management position to provide oversight," Skinner said.

Clark Kent Ervin, former DHS inspector general and now director of the Homeland Security Initiative at the Aspen Institute, said the CIO must be able to "hire, fire, and direct their nominal subordinates."

Direct access to DHS leadership will also help the department share information better internally and with other federal law-enforcement agencies, he said, which is crucial for security.

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