Walker: Treat security like Y2K effort

Walker: Treat security like Y2K effort

David Walker

The Bush administration's new homeland security plan needs the same federal leadership and oversight that made the year 2000 effort a success, comptroller general David M. Walker said last month.

In his Sept. 21 testimony to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Walker outlined how federal officials could develop a homeland security plan. He testified the morning after President Bush named Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to head the newly created Office of Homeland Security.

The comptroller general said any such plan must:

  • Provide clearly defined leadership and the ability to marshal the necessary resources to get the job done

  • Be based on a comprehensive assessment of national threats and risks

  • Articulate clearly the roles and responsibilities of the many federal, state and local agencies and private-sector organizations that will be involved.

    As a model of the effort that the Office of Homeland Security might conduct, Walker described the massive mobilization that federal officials led to ensure that computer systems would function after the year 2000 date change. Federal leadership and congressional oversight were keys to that effort's success, he said.

    Ridge brings to his new position a history of using IT to improve government administration and spur economic development.

    'They're doing many things with the IT infrastructure' in Pennsylvania, said Aldona Valicenti, president of the National Association of State CIOs and Kentucky's CIO. 'They are working to re-engineer processes and see how IT can work efficiently and effectively to meet the business needs of the state.'

    Ridge will oversee 'a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard our country against terrorism and respond to any attacks that may come,' Bush said.

    As governor, Ridge forged contracts with Microsoft Corp., SAP America Inc. of Newtown Square, Pa., and Unisys Corp.

    Tom Shirk, president of SAP America subsidiary SAP Public Services Inc. of Washington, said Ridge is focused on the need for government information systems to support integrated processes.

    Defense Department and intelligence agencies have grappled for decades with stovepiped systems and often been frustrated by bureaucratic rivalries and divisions of legal authority among agencies.

    Ridge has increased his state's IT spending about eightfold since fiscal 1996. He also consolidated several state data centers and accelerated e-government projects.

    Technical matters

    Such attention to IT concerns will be key for overseeing homeland security.
    Despite many efforts to reduce the threat of attacks on information systems, progress has been slow, Walker said in his testimony.

    'Independent audits continue to identify persistent, significant information security weaknesses that place virtually all major federal agencies' operations at high risk of tampering and disruption,' he said.

    Walker's testimony followed by one day a 218-page General Accounting Office report.

    GAO had scheduled the release of the report, Combating Terrorism: Selected Challenges and Related Recommendations, before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
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