DHS strikes gold

Thomas R. Temin

You know the Washington version of the Golden Rule: He who has the gold, rules.

Congress, in the Homeland Security appropriations bill President Bush signed into law last month, conferred a lot of gold on the department's CIO office'more than four times as much as last year for a total of $275.3 million.

Congress has been floating all sorts of trial balloons across the federal IT landscape in recent weeks to get the bureaucracy's attention. For example, it briefly threatened to delete the chief architect's position from the Office of Management and Budget. It also floated the idea of moving the cybersecurity chief's position into the White House because the job was so low on the Homeland Security Department totem pole. Typical Washington signaling.

But by moving real money into the CIO's office, the Hill demonstrated its seriousness about pushing DHS beyond the collection-of-agencies mode it's been stuck in.

The move gives CIO Steve Cooper a lot more clout over programs and acquisitions previously conducted by component agencies. Cooper proved to be a shrewd infighter earlier this year when he managed to scuttle a giant indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity IT products and services acquisition the Coast Guard had been running. This angered not only some in the department, but also some of the big contractors bidding for a piece of the action.

But this consolidation of power is more than a reflection of Cooper's clout. Whatever negotiations DHS staff conducted with Hill overseers, clearly the tide of sentiment was toward flattening the organization. Congress has meddled in DHS affairs so as to make progress difficult. Yet it has also been impatient with progress in turning the department into a single enterprise.

A more coherent strategy in IT and acquisition is a step in the right direction.

Most of the money and programs are likely to be overseen by Cooper's successor, whoever that might be. I have no special knowledge of Cooper's departure plans. He is simply among the highly visible, politically appointed CIOs whose departure is perennially speculated on.

But given last week's election and the fact that many high-level DHS workers are said to be ready to leave, you can expect a lot of turnover between now and Inauguration Day. But those who succeed the current crowd will find it easier to get things done.

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