Budget crunch crimps TSA's broadband plans

Budget crunch crimps TSA's broadband plans

Two of the nation's airports now have broadband connections under the Transportation Security Administration's three-phase IT plan to improve security and customer service for the traveling public.

But a tight federal budget is slowing down TSA's wide rollout of IT improvements, CIO Patrick Schambach said yesterday at a management panel sponsored by Unisys Corp., which is building an advanced IT infrastructure for the agency.

Under the first phase of the plan, security offices at all 429 major commercial airports now have bare-bones mobile IT equipment, such as notebook PCs and cell phones, and dial-up access to a virtual private network.

TSA has called its three-phase implementation the Red, White and Blue Plan, with each phase establishing a more advanced IT infrastructure.

The agency has completed advanced connectivity at Charlotte International Airport in North Carolina and Dallas Love Field in Texas, the test airports for the white phase, Schambach said. At those airports, Unisys has built a LAN and connected to the TSA WAN. TSA is analyzing how the installations measure up and what adjustments need to be made before five more airports are wired for advanced connectivity, he said.

All airports were originally expected to have broadband connections next year. 'The budget's going to be a squeeze for the foreseeable future, forcing some tough decisions and some trade-offs to be made,' Schambach said.

TSA is in a unique position. Building an agency infrastructure from the bottom up eliminates the need to operate with legacy systems. Under the managed-services contract, Unisys and its partners are providing IT and telecommunication services, including hardware and software, help desk, network security and business process services. But Schambach said it has also been a curse because he had no foundation on which to build to support 60,000 employees. Budget restrictions further complicate the IT rollout.

Schambach said he has to remind staff to focus on outcomes and the requirements needed to get there. 'I want TSA to be dragged forward to the best practices,' he said. Service-level contracts and shared accountability and planning are examples, he said.

The contract also contains incentives for Unisys for good performance if TSA achieves its goals and the vendor meets or exceeds its service levels.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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