Homeland Security forges a systems cadre

At the top tier is CIO Steve Cooper, who has sign-off authority over IT operations across the department.

Henrik G. de Gyor

A unified IT operation could take years to develop

After six months, the IT staff at the Homeland Security Department remains mostly an amalgamation of the systems shops cobbled together from the 22 agencies that make up DHS.

At the top tier is CIO Steve Cooper, who has sign-off authority over IT operations across the department. But the extent of his control is far from complete, observers noted. DHS has not completely centralized its procurement operations, and though major purchases are subject to approval by investment review boards, CIOs in component agencies wield significant power over personnel and investment decisions.

The department continues to consolidate its operations and establish new lines of reporting, so it is likely that forging a unified IT operation will take several years, sources said.

DHS plans to centralize its budgeting process in fiscal 2005. But budget documents for fiscal 2004 are being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget and passed back to the department's component directorates in the meantime, which means that DHS directorates retain the operating responsibility for their budgets.

The role of CIOs is evolving at DHS, sources said, and some consider themselves simply information officers. The distinction recognizes the need for CIOs to follow centralized IT authority under Cooper.

For example, in the Border and Transportation Security Directorate, assistant secretary Asa Hutchinson has authority over four CIOs: Scott Hastings of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Patrick Schambach of the Transportation Security Administration, Gary Mussina of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, and S. W. 'Woody' Hall of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.

Although these CIOs were in charge of agencywide IT shops before joining DHS, they recognize the need to coordinate operations under Cooper.

One factor holding back centralization is the prospect that the department's leadership is simply outnumbered by the personnel in its component parts.

According to a study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse of Syracuse University, in March the immediate office of secretary Tom Ridge had a staff of only 33, out of the department's total full-time complement of more than 160,000 employees.

Undersecretary for management Janet Hale had a staff of only 113 to oversee DHS business functions, including Cooper's operation.

The Transportation Security Administration alone has a staff of roughly 69,000, and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement 37,800 employees.

In March, Cooper's staff had oversight of 1,400 IT management personnel working for DHS, 141 computer specialists, six computer scientists and four computer engineers spread across the department. Engineers and technical assistants add to the department's IT ranks

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