At its core, a systems shake-up
- By Susan M. Menke
- Jun 14, 2002
Bush's Homeland Security Department proposal calls for an enterprise architecture
Among the federal IT chiefs whose agencies the administration has tapped to become part of a new homeland defense agency are'clockwise from top left' FEMA's Ron Miller, Customs' S.W. 'Woody' Hall, Coast Guard's Nathaniel Heiner, INS' Scott Hastings and TSA's Patrick Schambach.
Seat management and outsourcing are emerging as the keys to transforming the systems of seven dissimilar agencies into the enterprise architecture envisioned by President Bush for his proposed Homeland Security Department.
Agencies that have already made moves to outsource their IT environments, such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, might have an easier transition than, say, the Customs Service and Secret Service, which have built their environments piecemeal.
Besides these three agencies, Bush is calling for the new department to subsume the Animal, Plant and Health Inspection Service, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration'all heavy users of IT.
The White House announcement of the new department this month called for savings through 'development of a single enterprise architecture' to eliminate duplication. That architecture will become the first large-scale test of the Office of Management and Budget's campaign to simplify and unify government systems.
But whether a Homeland Security Department should construct a multiterabyte data warehouse, enable querying of the component agencies' existing databases or stream multiple data sources through a Web portal interface is 'the $64,000 question,' said Tom Conaway. The former Air Force captain heads defense activities for Unisys Corp.'s global public sector.
Conaway and others drew a distinction between the seven agencies' transactional records'who crossed the U.S. border, when?'and external intelligence records'whether that person should be watched, and why.
So-called actionable intelligence from the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency will be essential to compile the 'single daily picture of threats' that President Bush wants from the proposed department. Yet intelligence has not been shared well within the intelligence agencies, much less externally.
The president's plan simply calls on the FBI and Homeland Security to 'ensure cooperation by instituting standard operating procedures to ensure the free and secure flow of information.'
'How to link to each other and how to transmit' are the first problems that must be solved, Conaway said.
The White House plan charges the department 'to assess food, water, agriculture, emergency services, energy, transportation, telecommunications, finance, postal and national monument' infrastructures.
The assessment tool, the White House said, will be high-end modeling software now being developed at the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center, established last year as a joint project of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.
But first must come the financial and human resources systems to support the proposed $37.4 billion department's 200,000 workers. Some of the major agencies that would make up Homeland Security are installing modern financial or personnel systems. Customs, for example, is deploying the R/3 enterprise resource planning software from SAP America Inc. of Newtown Square, Pa.Uneven blend
Many of the component agencies, such as FEMA and the Coast Guard, run mostly Microsoft Windows NT environments, which face a near-term upgrade because of NT's phase-out. Others run multiple platforms without any unified architecture.
The Secret Service, for instance, has a mix of Windows, Unix and Linux platforms plus multiple vendors' database management systems and telecommunications platforms.
In contrast, the Border Patrol, part of INS, has a centralized Oracle Corp. database and a secure intranet.
After a two-year architecture study, INS has laid outsourcing plans for its $550 million Atlas infrastructure upgrade to unite its fragmented programs.
The contractor chosen for Atlas, which must support the high-profile Entry-Exit Visa System mandated after Sept. 11, might well be in a position to decide the new department's IT structure.
Another possibility is that the recently formed Transportation Security Administration could point the way to a new departmental infrastructure because it has the luxury of building from scratch with the latest technology.
But the component agencies 'must walk before they can run in seat management on a grand scale like the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet,' said Jeff Rogers, director of federal software operations for IBM Corp. He suggested the initial step should be the building of a departmental portal with a search engine capable of identifying patterns in unstructured data.
No matter what, the new department 'will be a failure if it can't provide information sharing from Day 1'that's the justification for it,' said Peter Morrison of portal software vendor Netegrity Inc. of Waltham, Mass.
Morrison said an intranet application server approach based on user authentication and role management could immediately open access to the component agencies' databases, but an underlying departmental architecture or data warehousing would take longer to shape.
Even if an enterprise architecture is slow to arrive, or never does, 'they can get there by a migration strategy'in bits and pieces,' Unisys' Conaway said. 'As they coalesce, they've got to keep the pieces operating.'