Homeland dept. poised for launch

Many pieces of the new department would be ready to go within a month, Cooper says

The Homeland Security Department could be running a month after President Bush signs it into law, according to the top information technology homeland security official.

With the impasse in Congress now broken over legislation to create the new department, Steve Cooper, the chief information officer at the Office of Homeland Security, said that many pieces of the department would be ready to go within a month, although officials would like 90 days to get it started.

Among the pieces ready to go: incoming e-mail, portals for internal and external communications, and a top management structure.

Congressional negotiators reached a compromise on the new legislation Nov. 12. The House was expected to vote on it as early as today and the Senate on Nov. 15. The deal resolved the key sticking point over labor issues. It would give the president broad authority over the department's workforce, let unions have some say over changes and allow federal mediators to handle disputes.

"The new department must operate in real time," Cooper told Federal Computer Week Nov. 12 at the Government CIO Summit, sponsored by FCW Media Group, in Fort Myers, Fla.

Cooper said IT officials have been working for months on the details for folding all or parts of 22 agencies into the Homeland Security Department. His office has consulted Hewlett-Packard Co., which recently went through a reorganization after its purchase of Compaq Computer Corp., for advice on handling a merger.

"We've not asked anybody to change yet," Cooper said.

"When we really ask people to do something different, that's when it gets challenging," he said. "There will be bumps."