Ready or not

'We have to make smart choices and smart investments. Technology is one,' Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge told members of the National Association of Counties at a Washington meeting last week.

'When we award contracts and grants, we are not going to buy anything anymore that is proprietary and doesn't interoperate and doesn't intercommunicate.'

'HSD CIO Steve Cooper

Henrik G. DeGyor

Homeland Security Department officially opens for business

'We have to get it right in a real-time environment.'

That's the charge'as described by Homeland Security Department CIO Steve Cooper'facing the IT chiefs of the 22 agencies that have been thrown together under the new department.

'This is a paradigm shift for those in the federal, state, local and tribal arena,' he said.

Although in recent days President Bush and Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge have played up the department's official March 1 opening, Cooper has had to put his full focus on the demanding and sometimes delicate job of fashioning a single IT shop from a herd of disparate systems employees and a list of systems numbering in the thousands.

Cooper's not kidding himself about how tough the job will be or the scrutiny that he can expect from his overseers in the administration.

'We have been informed by the Office of Management and Budget that we are starting out at red [for no progress] in every one of our categories' on the scorecard OMB uses to monitor agencies' progress in meeting program objectives laid out under the President's Management Agenda.
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To build an enterprise-spanning network for the HSD, the department's systems teams have been working with Pentagon IT planners to sketch out a real-time, interoperable systems architecture, Cooper said last month at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's Homeland Security Conference in Washington.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry D. Raduege Jr., director of the Defense Information Systems Agency and member of the team that has advised HSD on its systems strategy, said the department would have to overcome turf issues as it consolidates systems.

To illustrate his point, Raduege recalled the early days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the first efforts by the administration to forge domestic defense policies.

No matter how much the senior leadership sought to promote interoperability and coordination among organizations responsible for homeland security, Radeuge said, he noticed agency officials starting to divide themselves into tribes by the level of security classification within their operations.

'I really saw how difficult it would be [to achieve information sharing] when I saw it the first day,' Raduege said, observing that officials from top-secret, secret and relatively un-classified agencies formed three different groups in White House meetings about homeland security.

Cooper said the department must take its IT efforts a step at a time and must rely on products that exist now to succeed in getting basic administrative systems running quickly. Although the new department demands interoperability among its systems, Cooper said, it will not try to standardize its systems itself.

'I have said more than a few times that the department should not be in the business of setting standards,' he said.

New paradigm

Cooper emphasized that when it comes to real-time data sharing, 'there have been discussions, but we are not quite there yet'this is a very different paradigm.'

HSD likely will apply its first efforts to consolidating systems that support human resources and finances for the component agencies, a senior department official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said combining the HSD agencies would be done, in some ways, like a corporate merger, and in the private sector, HR and financial operations often are the first systems to be consolidated.

The department's senior IT management likely will decide by next month on the procedure, the official said. Once senior brass settle on a plan, the department will begin to cut off funds to some vendors and focus on others, he said.

The official suggested that companies that want to sell services or products to the department should work through existing contracts with component agencies because the department does not have time to launch massive new systems integration contracts.

'When we award contracts and grants, we are not going to buy anything anymore that is proprietary and doesn't interoperate and doesn't intercommunicate,' Cooper said at the AFCEA conference, reiterating a statement that has become almost a mantra for him.

Within the next month or so, the department will begin issuing requests for information for systems and services it will need, said James Flyzik, the former Treasury Department CIO who served as an IT adviser to the department transition team.

Cooper had passed along information about prospective RFIs so Flyzik could discuss them last week at the Information Processing Interagency Conference in Orlando, Fla.

Flyzik also said the department's Science and Technology Directorate would carry out pilots of 'things that are not ready for prime time today.'

Among those technologies are methods of seeing through containers and detecting radiological, nuclear, biological and chemical threats, said Flyzik, now a partner in the firm of Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates of Oak Hill, Va.

'The most exciting working group is the enterprise architecture' team, he said. The department wants to have 80 percent of its systems architecture in place by September, he said.

HSD sent Coast Guard chief knowledge officer Nat Heiner to the Orlando conference in place of Cooper, who stayed in Washington for the department's opening.

Uncertain future

Heiner said to expect some confusion about integrating the component agencies into their new organizations and how that will affect ongoing projects and contracts. Department officials are aware that contractors want more detailed contact information, he said.

'I can't tell you when that is going to happen,' Heiner said, adding that the department plans to set up a Web site for vendors.

The president welcomed employees to the new department in a Feb. 28 speech and announced that he would soon order 'the establishment of a unified national incident management system' to give agencies a common set of procedures for emergency response.

On March 1, HSD cut over most of the component agencies that will carry out its mission, including the Coast Guard, Customs Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Secret Service and Transportation Security Administration.

By Sept. 30, the department must wind up all transfers of personnel, assets and liabilities.

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