Memo to HSD

Thomas R. Temin

A good test for general managerial soundness of the new Homeland Security Department will be whether it can track and control its IT assets, both hardware and software.

Controlling IT assets requires technical skill. Information and data will be the lifeblood of the department, and the quantities of data it acquires and generates will grow quickly. So it stands to reason that Homeland Security's ability to safeguard these assets will, like the human body's blood pressure or temperature, be a good indicator of basic IT and management health.

Some agencies, year after year, seem to blow the mercury right out of the column when it comes to IT health measures. Take the Energy Department, for example.

The simultaneous scandals of the Wen Ho Lee affair and missing hard drives at the Los Alamos National Laboratory surfaced during the Clinton administration, embarrassing then-Energy secretary Bill Richardson and his senior staff.

Here we are, four years later and two years into a subsequent administration, and what's going on at Los Alamos? Why, missing computers and lost data, none of which apparently can be accounted for. Internal audits in 2001 revealed more than $1 million worth of missing equipment.

Heads have rolled, with the lab's director stepping down.

More than hardware is at stake. Los Alamos deals in nuclear secrets. Does anyone there notice what's going on with a little country called North Korea?

Homeland Security, a conglomeration of existing agencies, will be dealing with all sorts of intelligence, criminal, military and industrial security data. It will have 170,000 employees. Its IT scope will take years to unfold.

If the department is to have any credibility with its constituencies'and it has many'it will have to demonstrate the absolute integrity of its systems and its ability to keep wholesale quantities of software-laden hardware from simply disappearing.

Sounds obvious, but apparently not all agencies get it, even in the age of Kim, Osama and Saddam.

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