Another View: Homeland security IT looks doomed from the start

Joe Draham

Even before it is established, the proposed Homeland Security Department is getting off on the wrong foot. It looks as though the department will be unable to take full advantage of IT to ensure its operational success and, ultimately, its success in ensuring a United States safe from terrorism.

The president and Office of Management and Budget officials have said they want HSD to start out right'to avoid redundant IT spending by establishing a single enterprise architecture.

But if you looked at HSD's proposed organization chart, you'd see the CIO would report to the undersecretary for management, too far down in the organization to have the impact necessary to achieve the president's goals
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Even further down the organizational structure'and subordinate to the department CIO'are the current CIOs of the agencies that would amalgamate into HSD: the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Coast Guard, Customs Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Secret Service and Transportation Security Administration.

For the department to be successful, the CIO must be the architect and executor of its IT strategy. In that capacity he or she must also have control over IT resources'the budget, that is.

To accomplish this, the CIO must report directly to the secretary and take that proverbial seat at the table.

It is absolutely crucial that the CIO have direct input when the decisions are made. The current placement in the organization changes the role of the CIO from IT strategist to IT technician. That's not the role envisioned by the Clinger-Cohen Act, nor does it leverage the intellectual horsepower currently slated for inclusion in the department.

Thus, it was doubly disappointing to read that the House Select Committee on Homeland Security recently decided to exempt HSD from having its CIO report to the secretary.

The most responsible people should be those with knowledge of far more than deploying the technology and assuring its functionality. They must be at the senior management table, developing the game plan and formulating strategies, processes and procedures. Otherwise, leadership would never know if it had chosen the best products and services from the commercial IT market.

Clinger-Cohen holds CIOs responsible for agencywide IT planning, implementation and management. It further requires that CIOs report directly to the agency head.

Even so, many agencies have failed to give their CIOs direct authority over IT resources. This has led to duplicative technology investments, and higher lifecycle and training costs.

Without strict enforcement of Clinger-Cohen, CIOs have functioned differently in different agencies. Some have headed a loose confederation of IT managers within larger departments.
Some actually have attained authority over IT resources. With their collective experience behind them, all CIOs agree on one point: If the department CIO who is charged with controlling the department's IT doesn't have control of the money, people and contracts, it just doesn't work.

OMB has embraced Clinger-Cohen through its strategy of having only cross-agency IT projects get the limited investment money available. Now there's an opportunity for OMB and Congress to take the same decisive action in providing the CIO of HS with the necessary authority to carry out the responsibilities originally envisioned for the job.

Joe Draham is vice president of government relations and congressional affairs for GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va. E-mail him at joe_draham@gtsi.com.

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