BIA suffers high-tech growing pains

BIA suffers high-tech growing pains

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

Technologically, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has nowhere to go but up, the agency's new chief information officer says.

The Interior Department's inspector general recently lambasted BIA for its failure to adhere to even the most basic security measures, and other overseers have questioned the agency's compliance with the Information Technology Management Reform Act.

'Name a mandate or an act, and we aren't meeting it,' CIO Dom Nessi said. In April, he became BIA's first CIO, after managing a major systems modernization project at the agency for the previous two years.

The Government Management Reform Act, the Chief Financial Officer Act, the Government Performance and Results Act, and the Federal Managers' Financial Integrity Act all await implementation at the bureau, Nessi said.

BIA, which this month celebrates its 175th anniversary, is charged with protecting and improving the trust assets of American Indians.

The daunting task of complying with a laundry list of government reform initiatives falls to Nessi and a newly assembled technology staff at BIA.

'We can't expect the Office of Management and Budget or Congress to appropriate funds for a function if an agency doesn't plan properly or document its needs or show how it is going to utilize its funds,' he said.

Whos at BIA

Dom Nessi'The agency's chief information officer since April, he joined BIA from the Housing and Urban Development Department in May 1998 to become the Trust Assets Accounting Management System project manager.

Christine Cho'A former Defense Department employee, she brings expertise in database development and will concentrate on capital planning and systems acquisition.

John Curran'A former Minerals Management Service employee, he will tackle systems security.

Tim Fuller'Besides handling electronic-government duties, which he did in his former White House job, he is the systems configuration manager.

Mike Jones'A longtime BIA employee, he is the bureau's first knowledge officer.
Paul Marsden'As he did at the Agriculture Department, he will oversee strategic planning and electronic records management.

Alan Roit'A former Treasury Department employee, he is the national systems manager and works closely with the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute on Capability Maturity Model projects.

Ken Russell'A longtime BIA employee, he brings his field knowledge to bear as director of information resources management.

Audrey Sessions'A veteran bureau employee, she serves as the financial manager.

Ed Socks'Another longtime BIA employee and its year 2000 manager, he is the agency's technology officer.

Nessi acknowledged that BIA is behind the times and is only now addressing issues many agencies began work on in the mid- and late 1990s.

By way of example, he used the year 2000 rollover. Last year, most agencies inventoried their systems as they scrambled to make certain the date change would not bring systems to a screeching halt. But because no individual dealt with information technology across the board at BIA, no one has a list of its systems, Nessi said.

Systems and software not directly managed by the Information Resources Management Office flew under the radar, Nessi said. Individual offices called vendors to assure the year 2000 readiness of their software.

'Without a list, we can't create a security architecture, we can't create a data architecture and we can't create an enterprisewide architecture,' he said. 'The top managers wouldn't even know what systems are in existence.'

That makes data management'at least in the immediate future'hopeless, he said.

'There can be no data warehousing,' Nessi said. 'The Bureau of Indian Affairs has no idea what it spends on IT, and that is one of our major goals.'

First things first

For the next few months, life at the bureau is going to be a matter of getting back to basics, he said. Nessi and his team must rely on some of the bureau's oversight critics to help formulate a plan of action.

BIA's 5-step plan to better ITe

' Name a CIO staff

' Draft short- and long-term strategic plans with the help of senior BIA managers

' Do a systems inventory

' Explore use of the Internet

' Give BIA's network a polish

Diane Sandy, Interior's IG, has repeatedly slammed BIA in the past three years for its lack of security.

A July report, Audit Report on Follow-up of Recommendations for Improving General Controls Over Automated Information Systems, Bureau of Indian Affairs, reviewed progress on recommendations in two previous reports, dated April 1997 and June 1998. Of 20 recommendations, three had been fully implemented and six had been partially implemented, the latest report noted.

'When I read the audit, I said, 'You've really gone easy on us,' ' Nessi recalled. 'And she really had. But why get into the nitty-gritty when we're not even doing the basics?'

On Nessi's first day at work, he walked into a secure systems area, and no one questioned his presence, he said.

'There really is no mentality of security,' he said. 'People trade passwords back and forth. There wasn't proper management for removing people's access to systems after they left. There were no security background checks conducted at all.'

Administrators previously ran the show, he said. 'Now security is very heavy on our radar screen,' Nessi said.

The move of the bureau's data center from Albuquerque, N.M., to Reston, Va., will help BIA clean house: In the new location, data center employees can start fresh, re-embracing measures that have been ignored over the years, he said.
Moving target

'One of the things we uncovered was that the operations unit had no configurations management and scarce documentation,' Nessi said. 'There were no records on run tickets in the operational sense of a data center.'

Although the move may solve some problems, it creates another. Only 17 of the original 75 staff members chose to relocate.

BIA decided to move its data center based on the recommendation of a National Academy of Public Administration study, which reasoned that it would be easier for BIA management to keep its IT staff in the loop if most of the workers were closer to headquarters, Nessi said.

The move is also at the center of a dispute between the agency and a systems manager who has refused to relocate. In an unrelated lawsuit, the data manager criticized BIA systems modernization efforts, including some work under Nessi's purview [GCN, Sept. 4, Page 1].

Meanwhile, new technology investment and technology advisory councils will help the new CIO team try to meet its goals, which include making more and better use of the Internet.

Formed roughly three months ago, the two councils, comprising BIA senior managers, will assemble this week for the first time.

The two groups, along with the tribes the bureau serves, will help direct BIA's compliance with federal mandates, Nessi said.

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