Wyatt Kash | Pragmatism at DHS

Editor's Desk

Wyatt Kash

Few of the information technology challenges facing the Homeland Security Department are more important to its goal of streamlining systems and sharing information than developing a rational set of technical standards for its vast array of systems.

More than four years after the department's creation, DHS is still playing catch-up. But as this issue's special report suggests, there is an emerging recognition at DHS of flexible and complex approaches to standards as a viable alternative to widespread consolidation.

Take the Screening Coordination Office for example. DHS' technology leaders created the SCO to consolidate the department's identity and credential programs into a central organization. In principle, few would disagree with the logic of standardizing all the programs and technologies designed to secure systems and assure identities.

But in practice, the range of requirements and processes proved too varied to justify replacing them with one centralized set of standards or procurements. So today, SCO has evolved as a support organization for several credential and identity management programs. The new pragmatism is especially important at DHS, where technologies continue to change faster than the department's ability to keep up with them.

DHS is also thinking about applying standards differently. Typically, DHS would turn a technology issue over to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to figure out a standard and tell agencies what to do. DHS now appears more willing to put out a standard and let agencies figure out how best to meet it.

And when new technologies are needed, DHS is showing new willingness to push industry to engineer them. Such is the case with DHS' effort to develop a smaller, faster fingerprint capture device for use at border crossing stations; or Next Generation Identification, which provides interoperability among the biometric systems used by the FBI, DHS and the State Department. DHS is even prodding efforts to develop the architecture for a unique individual identification code ' a bioenumeration number in DHS parlance ' to identify every individual who might show up in DHS' border system databases.

Collectively, the signals coming from DHS these days are that a flexible set of IT standards will serve better than a monolithic, one-size-fits-all approach. That's welcome news if DHS is to overcome its tremendous IT backlog.

Wyatt Kash, Editor in chief

E-mail: wkash@1105govinfo.com

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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