Challenge No. 2:Set an overarching systems agenda

Coast Guard's Nathaniel Heiner says it's premature to figure out how the new department would affect the Guard's IT.

(GCN Photo by Henrik G. DeGyor)

Federal IT executives are awaiting direction from the White House and Congress on how they would merge the systems of the agencies slated to comprise the proposed Homeland Security Department.

The department would combine 200,000 employees and bring significant funding and IT resources to the table'more than $2.1 billion in annual technology spending, according to consulting firm Input of Chantilly, Va.

That IT budget would be exceeded only by those of the Defense, Transportation and Treasury departments, and NASA, said Payton Smith, manager of public sector analysis at Input.

The executive branch's lack of an integrated plan for Homeland Security IT showed last week at a hearing on the initiative before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Veteran's Affairs and International Relations.

Too early to tell

Representatives from seven of the agencies that would become part of the department testified at the hearing, touting their agencies' contributions to homeland security. But none of the witnesses'from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Treasury, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and FBI'presented a plan for an IT structure for the department.

Coast Guard chief knowledge officer and CIO Nathaniel S. Heiner said it's premature to figure out how the new department will affect the Guard.

'It's a significant political decision not yet disposed by Congress,' Heiner said.

But the Coast Guard will see a major shift in solving IT problems with agencies such as Customs and INS, which the Guard works with on a daily basis, he said.

'When we encounter problems to move data from one agency to another, we work case by case,' Heiner said. 'But if we are in the same department, we can attack those things systematically.'

The Coast Guard already has established a transition team, headed by Rear Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, to work on the transition if and when it happens.

Congress wants a clear plan of action for Homeland Security IT. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) said the new department would need a CIO with a strong mandate to control systems policy.

'I believe we need an individual with outside expertise,' she said.

The White House acknowledged the problems the new department would face.

'Right now we don't have compatible systems for homeland security. All the agencies have different IT budgets,' a senior White House official said. 'It is our hope that as we send special legislation to the Hill there will be a new IT capability.'

Creation of the new department would supersede some actions in Congress, such as legislation that would divide the Immigration and Naturalization Service into two agencies, one responsible for border control and one for managing visa programs.

Plans for the new department also likely will prompt Congress to review several hefty fiscal 2003 IT funding proposals:

  • $380 million for INS' Entry-Exit Visa System

  • $313 million for Custom's Automated Commercial Environment

  • $175.6 million for FEMA's systems projects

  • $155 million for the emergency response National Communications System

  • $125 million for the National Infrastructure Protection Center

  • $30 million for the Cyberspace Warning Intelligence Network, a program to alert government and private organizations about systems breaches

  • $29 million for Coast Guard IT projects

  • $20 million for the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center

  • $11 million for the Federal Computer Incident Response Center.

The administration has noted in the Homeland Security Department plans released so far that combining the IT assets of the component agencies would eliminate redundant spending and save money on R&D.

GCN staff writer Preeti Vasishtha contributed to this story.

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