Homeland work on fast track

Transition team ready to deliver basic tech services

Plans for the largest shuffle of federal resources in decades took on new urgency last week when the House passed compromise legislation to create the new Homeland Security Department, with the Senate expected to pass the measure this week.

Fortunately, officials preparing the department to conduct business on day one have been working to create a management structure and an information technology architecture that will guide the integration of systems from the more than 20 agencies that would make up the department.

If the bill is signed into law by Thanksgiving, the Office of Homeland Security's transition team will be able to provide basic functionality — including e-mail and simple information-sharing portals — on day one, according to Steve Cooper, the office's chief information officer.

"The new department must operate in real time," Cooper said.

The team also has been working on outlining the department's leadership, which is expected to closely resemble the team put together in the Office of Homeland Security, with a departmentwide chief technology officer and CIO.

But although some technology functions may be centralized, the department's major divisions are expected to have their own IT operations to "push decision-making closest to the task," Cooper said last week in an interview at the CIO Summit, which was sponsored by FCW Media Group in Fort Myers, Fla.

The new federal agency will be assembled from parts of 22 existing agencies and departments with missions as diverse as protecting U.S. borders, responding to disasters and fighting diseases in both plants and animals.

The House bill orders various actions that include appointing an undersecretary for science and technology and creating a Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was set up to help win the Cold War.

The agencies are expected to bring $2 billion in IT buying power to the new department. However, the department plans to ask for new money in fiscal 2004 to analyze data, protect critical systems and detect weapons of mass destruction, according to Cooper.

He said he would like to see an enhanced health surveillance alert network, much like the one sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to issue bioterrorism alerts.

"It will be a combination of truly new plus new uses for existing stuff," Cooper said.

On the first day of operation, he said, incoming e-mail would be operating and portals — both internal and external — would be created. The internal portal would provide such tools as Web-enabled meetings and bulletin boards.

Another technology likely to play a significant role in the early stages is the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, according to Cooper.

LDAP is used to develop directory services that enable an IT manager to give network users access to some resources and restrict them from others. One impetus for creating the proposed department, of course, is to give employees access to the information they need. But not everyone in the department will need to use all of its resources, and LDAP provides a way to manage that, Cooper said.

But other pieces of the proposed department, such as the enterprise architecture and collaboration across government, are likely to take longer to initiate.

"Day one is the beginning of the journey," Cooper said.

Lee Holcomb, director of infostructure for the Office of Homeland Security, said at least one usable piece of the national enterprise architecture for homeland security will be ready in the next 90 days.

The architecture model — sometimes called a product or artifact — will outline the connections among technology now in place and will "guide how we move forward and the infrastructure [of the proposed Homeland Security Department], what investments we make," Holcomb said Nov. 13 at a conference sponsored by SGI.

The architecture will be based on those being developed by the four task groups working under Holcomb to define mission-specific needs in border and transportation security, intelligence and warning, weapons of mass destruction, and first responders.

The architecture's development cannot move much faster simply because the structure that it must support will not be set until Congress finishes the bill to create the proposed department, Holcomb said.

The compromise legislation that passed the House last week gives President Bush most of the authority he sought to hire, fire and transfer employees of the proposed department regardless of civil service protections, but requires mediation and negotiations with unions.

The legislation has broad support. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), who backed the plan to create a Homeland Security Research and Development Agency, predicted that such an agency would be critical in defending against terrorist threats.

"Improving intelligence analysis, cybersecurity, border security and emergency response all will require the invention and deployment of new technologies," said Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee.

"Like the Cold War, the war on terrorism will be won as much in the laboratory as on the battlefield," he said.


Department takes shape

Some key technology provisions in the homeland security bill passed by the House last week include:

* Minimum security guidelines for federal computer systems.

* Limits on financial damages and restrictions on claims that can be made against technology vendors over the deployment of anti-terrorism technologies.

* Guarantees of secrecy if companies disclose technological vulnerabilities to the government. Disclosures would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

* Creation of a technology clearinghouse to help entrepreneurs and inventors present homeland security ideas to appropriate government officials.

* A requirement that federal intelligence agencies share information with state and local governments.

NEXT STORY: FBI data management a tough case