United front

'As we bring different bodies together that have information and share that information, we can begin to pick up anomalous behavior' ' DHS CTO Lee Holcomb

In Version 2.0 of the Homeland Security Department, secretary Michael Chertoff is pushing consolidation and integration to the forefront as part of his plan to reorganize the department. The ultimate goal is seamlessly sharing data.

'Over the next two years, significant stovepipes will be removed,' said Lee Holcomb, DHS chief technology officer. Officials plan to expand the department's common infrastructure to include more systems, reduce the number of networks and data centers, and determine how to reduce the number of applications by applying them to more than one department mission.

Consolidation efforts

The consolidation is intended to help DHS better manage threats and improve services because it will spotlight potential incidents more effectively. 'It will have a first-order effect in our ability to fight terrorism. As we bring different bodies together that have information and share that information, we can begin to pick up anomalous behavior,' Holcomb said.

The key is DHS' maturing enterprise architecture.

The fact that Chertoff made use of the enterprise architecture in shaping his reorganization plan should accelerate consolidation, Holcomb said. 'I don't want to tie it directly to enterprise architecture, but some of the things we've done on reorganization agree closely to what we've been looking at in the enterprise architecture. The enterprise architecture and portfolios we've identified are now better aligned with the organizational structure.'

According to some department watchers, consolidation efforts have lagged in the past because top leadership did not make it a priority, while some of DHS' component agencies dragged their feet in sharing information and allowing IT assets to be centrally managed. Others say that DHS leadership had their hands full just putting missions in place and were unable to focus on efficiency.

'There has been a lack of true executive sponsorship and oversight all the way to the top,' said a congressional staff member who requested anonymity.

The lack of consolidation has affected the department's ability to manage threats and provide services. 'It's just logical to assume that to be true,' said former DHS inspector general Clark Kent Ervin, now director of the Homeland Security Initiative at the Aspen Institute. For example, DHS, whose mission includes helping other agencies and private entities prepare to continue operations after a terrorist attack, doesn't have an IT backup plan itself.

'That's the kind of thing a CIO could and presumably would mandate and make a top priority, if he/she had the resources and authority to do so,' Ervin said.

During his tenure as IG, Ervin had faulted the department for not providing the CIO with enough funding, personnel and authority, such as the power to control what the component CIOs do and don't do. 'I was hoping the second-stage review would result in beefing up the CIO's office,' he said.

The only IT consolidations that have taken place were what Holcomb called 'quick fixes' for integration early on, such as providing a single e-mail address through a virtual directory.

DHS also linked all the department networks so that they would operate as a single intranet and created a single external and a single internal portal for employees inside and for communications outside of the department.

DHS plans to translate its consolidation road map into some near-term milestones. The department is about to go operational with the Homeland Security Secure Data Network for the majority of its classified sites. DHS next plans to consolidate the infrastructure for unclassified but sensitive systems, which makes up about 90 percent of the department's systems.

Over the next six to 12 months, DHS expects to merge its wide area network, first through a common virtual network and then a physical consolidation into one network. The department also plans to meld its department-level security center and six or seven regional or organizational centers into a single security operations center. That already exists in HSDN.

DHS also has started consolidating its 12 major data centers into primary and backup data centers. According to Holcomb, this will likely take two years to accomplish. For some unique needs, there may continue to be some small distributed centers. 'But the primary work in data centers for the department will be consolidated down to probably two, maybe three, centers,' he said.

Although applications would move to fewer data centers, some mission stovepipes would still exist in the department, along with multiple applications. This requires rationalizing those applications to most effectively support a mission area through re-engineering or removing duplicate applications.

Holcomb has reviewed certain mission areas that tie into the strategy of the department and started to create portfolios of applications in mission areas. 'It's one thing to move the applications to the same physical location; it's another to begin to rationalize the missions between and among themselves in the same portfolio mission area,' he said.

'You almost have to wait until we get common infrastructure in order to begin to really accelerate the applications in mission rationalization.'

Paying off

DHS has seen some results from the small amount of consolidation to date, such as improved collaboration and more effective operations.

Besides enabling collaboration, 'there is clear evidence that we're saving money and that we're using that money to reinvest in the next stages of consolidation,' Holcomb said.

DHS converted its core network about two months ago to a Multi-Protocol Label Switching backbone, which makes IP traffic more predictable and networks more resilient. 'The money saved from that effort is now being used to support the next stage of consolidation on the network, where we reach out and begin to bring other networks into the core. There are about six major networks and we're bringing those together,' he said.

The enterprise architecture has helped consolidation by identifying portfolio or mission areas that need to be streamlined, the congressional staff member said, although it may be 'a mile wide and an inch deep.'

DHS is finalizing version 3 of its enterprise architecture. Each version becomes more refined with additional elements and penetrates more deeply into the mission in understanding their business processes, Holcomb said. 'Now we're working with the business owners in each portfolio area and using the EA to support the internal re-engineering of their functional areas to do it better, to take a look at the systems and the applications.'

Reorganizing DHS

EA and the identified portfolios are now better aligned with the organizational structure. 'What you see is that the secretary has reorganized DHS around the strategy of our business,' Holcomb said.

The proposed Office of Screening Coordination and Operations is an example of consolidation and integration by function. It would encompass nine screening programs, including U.S. Visit, Registered Traveler, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program and Secure Flight.

Chertoff included it in his reorganization plan but Congress did not fund it in the fiscal 2006 spending bill. A single office would reduce the administrative overhead and encourage department-wide use of some programs, said Jennifer Kerber, director of homeland security at the Information Technology Association of America.
One of the biggest barriers is getting the various organizations to trust that under centralization, the department will deliver world-class services.

'If you can't give an entity equal or better services, then they're not going to be satisfied with consolidation,' Holcomb said. His office is looking for agencies in the department that might form the best foundations on which to consolidate.

'Who is doing that function the best in the department at the largest scale in the most current technology or best approach? And can we build on that entity that has the people and capability?' he said.

Over the past year, his office has identified pockets of expertise. For example, Customs is good at networking; the department could make use of its expertise.

'You can think of it as a domain center of excellence. We've looked to Customs also in the data center consolidation area to serve as a lead. In directory and e-mail, Coast Guard will lead,' he said.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above