War on terrorism speeds many federal IT plans

The war on terrorism has brought a greater sense of urgency and cooperation to many federal IT efforts, several senior systems officials said last month.

The war on terrorism has brought a greater sense of urgency and cooperation to many federal IT efforts, several senior systems officials said last month.

A panel of 13 top feds said agencies must work together and work faster to recover from the attacks and fight terrorism.

'We've talked about this within CIA as being a marathon, not a sprint,' said Doug Naquin, the intelligence agency's deputy CIO. 'But we still seem to be doing three-minute miles.'

Most agencies are still following federal procurement regulations, but they are moving faster to buy the technology they need to face the new threat, Naquin said at a breakfast sponsored by the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

'We've made more progress in the last seven weeks than in the last several months or years,' he said.

The State Department is pushing up its schedule to implement secure voice systems, upgrade high-frequency radio systems and expand telecommunications redundancy, said Fernando Burbano, the department's CIO.

And the FBI is speeding up rollout of its Trilogy systems modernization project.

'It was originally a three-year plan,' FBI CIO Mark Tanner said. 'Now, after the events of Sept. 11, we've compressed the schedule and are working toward a December 2002 completion.'

The aftermath of the attacks showed the FBI how much it needed an upgrade, Tanner said. He said several of the vendors that offered help for the agency's investigation were turned away because the FBI's older systems weren't compatible with the new technology they would supply.

At FEMA, workers are frantically preparing for additional attacks.

'Right now, we are operating at a tempo that we have not seen before,' said Ronald Miller, the agency's CIO. 'We need to retool our operations to adapt to that new framework.'

FEMA aims to improve its communications capability and develop rugged, high-bandwidth equipment. The agency also is looking for ways to overcome unconventional threats.

'Cyberterrorism hasn't hit us yet, but it's coming,' Miller said. 'And we're not ready for it.'

Data lost

While the pace of change has picked up at several agencies, for some the move is too late. Stephen Colo, CIO of the Secret Service, said the agency lost important information on criminal suspects when its systems in the World Trade Center were destroyed. The agency had a plan to mitigate such risks but hadn't fully implemented it when the attacks came.

The panel also described how agencies are increasing their collaboration with each other and the private sector.

Mayi Canales, the Treasury Department's deputy CIO, noted that vendor assistance in New York helped four Treasury agencies resume operations in four days.

Angela Styles, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, echoed the need to increase collaboration with vendors.

'If there's ever been a time for the federal government to expand and solidify its base of contractors, that time is now,' she said.

The administration's goal of unifying and simplifying systems has led to some new relationships among agencies, said Mark Forman, associate Office of Management and Budget director for IT and e-government.

Tanner said the FBI is using Law Enforcement Online, a high-security intranet linking 2,000 law enforcement officials, to communicate with federal, state and local agencies.

That collaboration has spread beyond agencies that work in similar fields.

'A lot of the agencies that don't appear to be members of the intelligence community are working more closely [together] than ever now,' the CIA's Naquin said.

One thing feds seem to agree on is that it's no longer business as usual.

FEMA is conducting a comprehensive review of its IT infrastructure, which includes 500 servers. Miller said the importance of such a review has increased greatly since Sept. 11.

'Before, it was [important] because it was good stewardship, good management, and good dollars and cents,' he said. 'Now, it's a matter of life and death.'

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