TSA's gaining ground on airport-HQ connections

Unisys' Tom Conaway says it helps to be psychic when managing a billion-dollar build-out.

With a funding impasse now behind it, the Transportation Security Administration's IT infrastructure project to connect 429 airports to TSA headquarters is getting off the ground.

The initial build-out 'got caught up in the [fiscal 2003] continuing resolution,' said Tom Conaway, Unisys Corp.'s managing partner for the $1 billion IT Management Services contract, 'and there was little construction for the first half of the fiscal year.'

Unisys' prime contract, awarded last August, has a three-year base and two two-year options.
Now, what TSA calls the red phase and Unisys calls the red package is complete, and federal security directors at airports are using it.

The red package includes:
  • Dell Computer Corp. servers and desktop, notebook and handheld PCs

  • Virtual private networks from several vendors for secure communications with TSA headquarters and hosting centers

  • Cisco Systems Inc. voice over IP telephone systems

  • Teleconferencing equipment from Polycom Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.

  • Uninterruptible power systems from American Power Conversion Corp. of West Kingston, R.I.

  • Hosting center servers running Sun Solaris

  • Mobile radios from Motorola Inc.

  • Cell phones, pagers, TVs, copiers and other office equipment.

Not all the TSA sites are at airports, Conaway added, and some don't yet have all their office space or staffs.

'In the second phase, the white package, we're expanding LAN and WAN connectivity from the hosting centers and headquarters to the commercial airports,' he said. 'The blue phase will see all the connectivity in place, and we'll move on to improving business practices and adding mission-critical applications.'

At present, the mission-critical apps include:
  • Screener work force scheduling software from Sabre Airline Solutions of Southlake, Texas

  • Kronos Time and Attendance software from Kronos Inc. of Chelmsford, Mass.

  • Database management systems from Oracle Corp.

Until the white package's Cisco routers bring up the WAN, security directors are running the scheduling software on their notebooks, Conaway said, but 'ultimately it will run out of the hosting centers' managed by subcontractor IBM Corp.

'The Oracle apps are used for the e-government operations platform,' Conaway said. 'There's no back-office stuff yet. We're taking a commercial off-the-shelf approach to a centralized application environment.'

Central point

Asked whether the outsourcing approach pioneered by TSA CIO Patrick Schambach was spreading in DHS, Conaway said Unisys is providing support to DHS headquarters.

All the hardware and software arrives at a central point where Unisys and its subcontractors configure, ship, install and test it. 'We have quite a crew'more than 35 companies,' he said.

How does he manage so many elements? 'I'm psychic,' he joked, but his current planning tool is Microsoft Project. He said he's looking at higher-end project management products and at Linux as an operating system. He also uses design and configuration tools from IBM subsidiary Rational Software Corp. of Cupertino, Calif.

The best tool, however, is 'a good hammer for breaking down barriers,' Conaway said. 'The vision is coming to be.'

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