Homeland bills lack support for innovation, report says

Homeland bills lack support for innovation, report says

Homeland security legislation proposed by the Bush administration and under consideration in Congress does not do enough to support flexible procurement and technical innovation, according to a Markle Foundation report issued today.

The report, prepared with the participation of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Brookings Institution and the University of Virginia, analyzed the IT aspects of the government's homeland security plans.

Procurement reforms proposed in legislation to create a Homeland Security Department are inadequate, the report said.

'They permit, but fail to require, the new agency and its officials to break with past practices and include innovative and open planning and technology development,' the report said. 'Rather than the many offices and centers that would be created by pending legislation, Congress should create essentially two new entities with built-in private-sector participation and authority,' the report advises. One of the new entities could serve as a center for technology under the proposed department and the other as a nongovernment institute to help develop and deploy new technologies.

The foundation's recommendations largely endorsed an earlier call by the National Research Council for a not-for-profit, contractor-operated organization to serve as a Homeland Security Institute. The proposed institute should have a board of directors that comprises agency CIOs and private-sector representatives chosen by the president and Congress, the report said. It would perform or oversee the department's work in the fields of technology planning, standards development and IT management, including evaluating major IT proposals.

The report also said that the federal government should not created a centralized information architecture to combat terrorism but use a decentralized network of federal, regional, state and local agencies, as well as private companies, to spread information widely.

'The federal approach and guidelines can inform and support these local efforts, but information needs to be available widely and should not be required to flow through a central hub,' according to the report.

In a biting image, the report's authors condemned proposals for 'endless mining of vast new government data warehouses to find intricate correlations,' stating that such approaches do not offer security but 'instead evoke memories of the walls of clippings collected by the paranoid genius, John Nash, in [the movie] A Beautiful Mind.'

The report proposed a draft network architecture for the homeland security IT effort, in a broad-brush approach that emphasized the continuing importance of the Justice Department and FBI as lead agencies for law enforcement and the proposed Homeland Security Department as the lead agency for shaping domestic intelligence products.

The chairs of the foundation are former Cabinet nominee Zoe Baird and Jim Barksdale, investor and former chief executive officer of Netscape Communications Corp.

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