Too fast to the altar

Thomas R. Temin

Creating a Homeland Security Department'whatever form it finally takes'won't be clean or easy.

Like the departments of Defense, Energy, Transportation and a few others, HSD won't really be a new department at all.

If anything, it will be more like a complex arranged marriage in which the parties may know but not like one another. Ugh.

Plus, the far-flung agencies slated to make up the new department face the problem of merging their information systems. Between existing systems and projects under way at the chosen agencies, the potential for IT chaos is huge. It would be a major accomplishment indeed, if on Day 1 everyone in HSD could even e-mail one another.

The Office of Management and Budget, sensing that the eight principal agencies are each spending more on IT than they probably need to if combined, has ordered a stand-down on IT infrastructure projects of more than $500,000 [GCN, July 29, Page 1]. Clearly, the new department won't need a duke's mixture of WANs, data centers, e-mail systems and the like.

But even though money savings are always welcome, there's a bigger issue at hand. IT in the context of domestic defense is not merely a supporting function to help thousands of workers with office tasks. It is the tool most central to the very mission of the proposed department.

Think of it another way. With the right data-sharing and analysis tools, plus a good dollop of policy and program management, the government could create a virtual HSD without creating a new department. But instead, just the opposite is happening as the government rushes headlong into forging a physical agency before the component data infrastructures can be integrated in any meaningful or useful way.

As a vice president for one large vendor put it recently, the administration has created the executive summary but not the underlying framework.

Without an adequate engagement period, HSD could lead to an unhappy marriage indeed.

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