DHS' 2005 rallying cry: Unify

About half the $10 billion worth of contracts the department will award during the next 10 months will be for IT.

' DHS procurement chief Greg Rothwell

The top priority of the Homeland Security Department in the coming year will be to align its IT purchases to gain momentum in consolidating its component agencies and their systems.

DHS plans to spend big on systems. About half the $10 billion worth of contracts the department will award during the next 10 months will be for IT, chief procurement officer Greg Rothwell said this month at a meeting of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce in Virginia.

The task of unifying the systems will fall to the seven procurement offices DHS inherited from its predecessor agencies and the newly created IT Acquisition Center.

For now, Rothwell said, he expects the eight organizations to 'behave as one and project that to the private sector.' But eventually, the IT Acquisition Center will become the department's IT procurement hub, Rothwell said.

'That office will ultimately be handling all IT procurements, but we will have decentralized ordering' through the other seven offices, he said.

Dan McLaughlin, the center's acting director, is overseeing the expansion of the office from about five to 50 employees.

The department must also replace its current hodgepodge of buying vehicles spread across dozens of agencies to a limited number of what it calls domain contracts. DHS is working on the specification and solicitations for the domain buys.

Rothwell emphasized that McLaughlin is working hand-in-hand with CIO Steven I. Cooper to craft the procurement strategy.

The department's IT leadership acknowledges that the unification task is ambitious. 'We still have a lot to do in the way of horizontal integration,' Border and Transportation Directorate CIO Charles Armstrong said at a recent meeting sponsored by the Industry Advisory Council.

The integration work will cover sharing information, coordinating systems for identifying threats, forging departmentwide standards and weaving together networks, Armstrong said.

Customs and Border Protection CIO Rod McDonald added that one key goal is 'consolidating and integrating the infrastructure for CBP. This will include building one network to coordinate the data, systems and operations,' partly by consolidating data centers.

Cooper repeatedly has said the department plans to reduce its number of data centers. He also wants to end DHS' reliance on some data center services still being provided by the Justice Department.

One tough challenge that DHS must address as it collapses systems and support into fewer and fewer organizations and contract vehicles is fee for services. It's been a touchy subject for months, said Al Hudson, CIO for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau.

ICE is 'supporting 63,000 users,' Hudson said, adding that his shop provides data processing services to CBP and the Citizenship and Immigration Services agencies.

Disputes over how other agencies should pay for technology services have simmered for months and led to financial problems that attracted the attention of congressional appropriators, Hudson said.

'Starting in February, we began to have weekly meetings,' he said. 'We have reached a methodology with the line items, and we have refined that strategy. We feel we have an accurate allocation [of the costs], and we are very close to reaching a final approach.'

Though the consolidation work will be tough, the CIOs also expressed optimism. 'By January, we will have connectivity at all airports via intelligent phones, LAN and WAN,' Transportation Security Administration CIO David Zeppieri said.

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