Next DHS technology chief will need clout

'I am recommending that the acting CIO be somebody from inside the department.'

'DHS CIO Steve Cooper

Olivier Douliery

The next person to oversee the Homeland Security Department's technology infrastructure will have to possess shrewd political skills as well as technical savvy.

As CIO Steven I. Cooper, who's led the department's IT operations since well before it was officially created, prepares to leave, the agency's mission-critical applications, enterprise architecture and back-office operations are in a state of flux, and DHS's new secretary is re-evaluating the department's organization.

One of the difficulties Cooper faced, observers say, was a lack of budget control and clout within DHS.

'Cooper did noble work, but the problems remain the same,' said James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 'There are many systems that don't connect. You can't say that DHS has an integrated enterprise network.'

Cooper, who came to Washington as CIO of the White House's Homeland Security Office, had the responsibility, if not the power and budget, to weld DHS' systems together.

'I am recommending that the acting CIO be somebody from inside the department. I believe it is important to sustain the mo- mentum,' Cooper said in an interview.

Part of that momentum are the five priorities he set for the department's IT development over the coming year:
  • 8TRANSforming the enterprise by aligning the department's IT infrastructure with its business missions

  • Securing the homeland in terms of cyber and information security'a project that will involve raising the department's F grade on the Federal Information Security Management Act report

  • Finishing the department's IT foundation, a task Cooper said would take up to three years and $2.3 billion

  • Completing IT work at the department's new organizations, such as the Science and Technology and Information Assurance and Infrastructure Protection directorates

  • Empowering the IT workforce. Cooper noted that 38 percent of DHS' technology workforce will be eligible to retire by 2006, and almost 40 percent have less than seven years' experience.

Lewis said weaving the department's systems together would require attention to such details as the adoption of common data formats and protocols via consistent metadata standards.

'Getting the enterprisewide network in place is going to require more than buying new technology and new equipment,' Lewis said.

Aside from the internal challenges, Cooper's successor will be charged with mollifying a skeptical Congress.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a member of the House Select Homeland Security Committee, said that 'much remains to be done to get the department's IT systems integrated and working. It is also critical that the department serves as an example to the nation and has secure systems that are protected against cyberattacks.'

Other observers emphasize that the new CIO will need to snare budget authority over the department's technology projects and establish a clear link to Secretary Michael Chertoff.

'One of the problems is that a number of appointees have said that it is difficult to get access to the secretary. If it was me, I would take budget authority over getting access to the secretary,' Lewis said.

Amit Yoran, former director of DHS' Na- tional Cyber Security Division, said a new CIO needs 'to establish their credibility, authority and willingness to both partner with and lead the organization. That requires a great deal of political deftness.'

Clark Kent Ervin, former DHS inspector general, said Cooper lacked the authority to rein in the other CIOs in the department, a challenge that his successor could also face.

Authority lacking

'He didn't have the authority to hire, fire, order around the nominal subordinates, the CIOs of the various components or their bosses,' Ervin said. 'Now, Steve could attempt to influence them and cajole them, twist their arms, but he couldn't ultimately control them, and when you can't control the people who are nominally subordinate to you, then obviously that's a real limitation on your effectiveness. Then there were budgetary limitations, as well.'

The Government Accountability Office, in a report issued last May, cited the limited staff and budget of the department's CIO office as a hindrance to DHS' technology development.

Cooper, who announced his resignation April 4 and will leave the department by the end of the month, acknowledged his lame-duck status, implying that a new CIO could set different priorities.

In regard to his own legacy, he cited a cartoon from the comic strip 'Peanuts' in which the beagle Snoopy thought as he lay on his doghouse: 'He was a good dog. He chased sticks.' In other words, Cooper said, 'I did my job.'

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