FEMA should outsource IT, study says

Ex-CIO Miller says since Sept. 11, FEMA has 'more work than people.'

Henrik G. DeGyor

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's systems have some severe problems, including poor management, nonstandard configuration of computers and aging machines, according to a study by Gartner Inc.. The solution proposed by the Stamford, Conn., consulting firm was simple: Hire a vendor to handle these problems and let FEMA stick to its mission of helping victims recover from disasters.

CIO Ron Miller, currently on detail with the Office of Homeland Security, said FEMA commissioned Gartner to conduct a cost-of-ownership study. FEMA managers generally agreed with most of the Gartner findings, he said.

Gartner determined that FEMA's asset management system for computers 'was not adequate for that function.'

The consulting group also found flaws in the agency's practices for IT planning and management.

'Their assessment was that we are mixed' in implementing best practices, Miller said. Some regional offices have made excellent progress, but others, as well as headquarters, lagged.

Gartner also identified problems in the training FEMA gave its IT users, Miller said.

The best way for FEMA to solve its problems, Gartner said, was to turn them over to a vendor, leaving the agency's workers to concentrate on dealing with emergencies.

'Based on the inputs they gave us three alternatives,' Miller said. 'The best alternative was managed services: turning over ownership of our infrastructure to a vendor for full lifecycle management and operation.'

Miller said his agency could not adopt the Gartner recommendation because FEMA is awaiting the outcome of data analysis by the Office of Management and Budget. OMB last month ordered agencies slated to roll into the proposed Homeland Security Department to suspend infrastructure investments pending a high-level review of their systems.

More options

The other recommended courses of action were to turn entire functions, such as help desk operations, over to a vendor or to apply outsourcing to selected functions.

'My idea has always been that since Sept. 11, we have had more work than people,' Miller said.

'I have always been of a mind to revector our staff to other missions.'

Miller is a member of the investment review board that is evaluating Homeland Security component agencies' systems. The board meets weekly, he said.

Leaders of the new department may decide to outsource its IT, he said, but any such effort would require a more flexible contract than existing outsourcing vehicles.

'The new department is going to have to take a look at [outsourcing] as an option,' Miller said. 'Because you have FEMA with a recommendation on the table for this as a solution, and the Transportation Security Administration having issued a request for objectives in late June, for a $1.4 billion outsourcing effort.'

Classified IT functions of the new department also could be provided by a vendor, Miller said, 'But there is a lot of expense and time and oversight involved. The contractors have to be cleared. Most people are much more comfortable with the government retaining that role.'

Miller said FEMA's IT professionals have scheduled meetings with Gartner's evaluation team to determine an IT management strategy.

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