OMB halts spending for homeland security IT

The new department can't protect Americans if its people can't communicate, OMB's Mitch Daniels says.

Ricky Carioti

The eight agencies slated to make up the proposed Homeland Security Department have stopped work on all IT projects valued at $500,000 or more, as ordered by the Office of Management and Budget.

No new procurements, including task or delivery orders, can proceed until they are analyzed by the new Homeland Security IT Investment Review Group.

As the administration gears up for the creation of the new department, it's looking to eliminate duplicate IT efforts among the agencies tapped for inclusion. To handle the consolidation effort, OMB created the review group.

"There are going to be very, very large savings" from merging systems that deliver the same or similar services, OMB director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. said earlier this month at a midyear budget review briefing. He estimated the savings might reach $200 million over the next two years.

Additionally, the IT stand-down could free funds for cash-starved IT security projects at the Transportation Security Administration and Defense Department.

Otherwise, DOD and TSA likely would have to curb their IT security projects because their December supplemental appropriations are 76 percent exhausted, Daniels said. Other agencies have spent an average of 39 percent, and some as little as 10 percent, of their supplemental budgets, he said.

An OMB spokesman said the review group "may well find that TSA or DOD is proposing solutions that can be leveraged by other agencies." In that case, he said, OMB would let the pair of agencies move forward on projects that other agencies could use to build a homeland security architecture.

The review group consists of CIOs from the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, TSA and the departments of Justice, State and Treasury.

Money woes

The CIO team wants details by Aug. 15 about what each agency considers redundant IT projects.

"I think the money woes [that TSA] is facing are obviously a factor in some of the decision-making," said FEMA CIO Ron Miller, a member of the review group. "But it's not a driving factor."

The group also is examining TSA's infrastructure outsourcing plans, Miller said, and it is setting guidelines for what agencies must report to OMB, the White House Homeland Security Office and the review group.

"It's important we get a good comprehensive set of data that we can use for comparative purposes," Miller said.

For example, FEMA operates a WAN, and so do Customs and INS, he said. "We decide if any of the network solutions will answer a majority of the requirements," Miller said. "We use that as a basis for building a [Homeland Security] departmentwide infrastructure."
OMB and White House officials will help the CIOs reach compromises in cases where there is contention. "It's always important that we allow folks to air any concerns they might have," Miller said.

Mark Forman, OMB associate director for IT and e-government, said, "Folks have to work together; they cannot hide behind their IT infrastructure. I want to see everybody make good investments in technology."

Daniels' memo said FEMA and INS are freezing eight projects each, and the Coast Guard is halting six. The Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has stopped planning for two projects. The Secret Service has halted $34.9 million worth of IT projects, and TSA has ceased planning two projects--a network and a data center. Customs has halted three.

The memo also has postponed TSA's announcement of an infrastructure outsourcing vendor. It had planned to name the vendor last week (see story, Page 19).

TSA spokesman Greg Warren said there is a freeze on all IT contracts at agencies that will become part of the proposed department. He said TSA does not know how long the freeze will last.

"There are high-quality infrastructures available at the Customs Service and INS, and the [review group] needs to decide which platform to build and obviously not continue building several at the same time," Daniels said at the briefing.

Highlight IT plans

OMB is also asking agencies to identify any current or planned IT infrastructure spending not included in their fiscal 2002 and 2003 budgets.

"I would not look at [Daniels'] list as being all-inclusive," Miller said. "It gives some pointers to the kinds of projects we need to be looking for."

The agencies collectively plan to spend at least $360 million on IT infrastructure by the end of this fiscal year and more than double that in fiscal 2003. Next year, four agencies had earmarked at least $244 million for telecommunications systems that mainly deliver the same services.

"A worker at La Guardia ought to be able, if he needs, to immediately contact somebody at the Port of Los Angeles or a border station in Texas," Daniels said. "The new department cannot protect Americans if its people cannot communicate with each other."

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