DHS bureau organizes to the max
- By Richard W. Walker
- Jan 21, 2004
Leadership is structured with an eye toward performance
'The key to getting onto the same sheet of music is constant collaboration and feedback.'
' Customs and Border Protection's Bill Inch
Henrik G. de Gyor
A strong governance structure goes a long way toward maximizing performance'especially when the performance involves a large and complex modernization program.
The Automated Commercial Environment system modernization at the Homeland Security Department's Customs and Border Protection bureau is a case in point. The $1.3 billion, 15-year ACE project is intended to fully automate the process of tracking U.S. import data, ending reliance on paper and the antiquated, Cobol-based Automated Commercial System. When complete, ACE will expedite the flow of trade data via a single system interface.
'There is need for constant and continuous collaboration,' said Bill Inch, acting deputy director of the CBP Modernization Office. 'It sounds sort of fundamental. But it's not. We all come to this with different backgrounds, expectations and experience. And the key to getting onto the same sheet of music is constant collaboration and feedback.'
The agency has put in place an oversight structure to ensure that all stakeholders work in harmony on the modernization.
The flagship of the structure is its multifarious Executive Steering Committee, which draws members from inside and outside the organization, Inch said.
At the top, the steering committee includes CBP executive leadership'commissioner Robert Bonner, assistant commissioners, representatives of Homeland Security, CBP Modernization Office leaders and representatives of the E-Customs Partnership, which consists of executives from prime contractor IBM Corp. and its subcontractors.
The steering committee also includes the board of directors of the International Trade Data System. ITDS is a federal initiative whose goal is to facilitate information processing and data sharing for federal agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department, involved in international trade but not served by the current system.
Inside the Modernization Office, the management structure includes a Senior Executive Service business executive who reports directly to CBP deputy commissioner Douglas Browning.
'The business executive is primarily there to ensure that what we're building is consistent with what CBP needs in the future,' said Jim Wallin, executive consultant for Robbins-Gioia LLC of Alexandria, Va., which handles program management for the Modernization Office.
'We built in to the program some high assurances to make sure that what we built was not an IT solution but a business solution so that the IT would be compatible with what's going on in trade,' he said.Please be candid
Robbins-Gioia supports a modernization management team, another element of the oversight structure. Made up of CBP and E-Customs Partnership executives, the team oversees contract performance and conducts frequent'and candid'cost, schedule and risk reviews.
'A big piece of this is a very heavy dose of collaboration'and frank collaboration,' Inch said. 'We sit down on a biweekly basis, if not more often, and have very frank discussions about the positives and about the areas where we see need for improvement.'
The Modernization Office also has established an office to facilitate communications with Congress, the import industry and other agencies. It's another way of improving the project's outcomes.
'We have a very broad responsibility at Customs and Border Protection,' Wallin said. 'We interface with some 104 other agency offices that are dependent on goods coming across the border, so we have a fairly significant outreach program to other agencies.'
On the technology side, another outside consultant, Mitre Corp. of Bedford, Mass., provides strategic guidance, independent technical oversight and systems engineering.
The modernization project recently was given Level 2 designation under the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model for Software, a major management milestone. The model measures the maturity of a project's software processes.
'Having [Level 2] processes in place isn't going to guarantee your success 1,000 percent, but it's certainly going to point you in the right direction,' Inch said.
In the end, reaching such important milestones is part and parcel of managing your program for results.
'You've got to focus on those key milestones,' Inch said.