Pushing the integration envelope

DHS faces technical, cultural issues as it combines 22 agencies

E Pluribus Unum, the motto adopted at the republic's founding to suggest the melding of many into one, could also serve as the guiding principle for the Homeland Security Department.

In January 2003, 22 federal agencies and programs were formally assigned to DHS. A little more than a year later, the department and its contractors are immersed in the task of building one organization out of many. The effort will rely on information technology to unify DHS' component agencies. But the process of bringing together 190,000 employees means DHS officials must grapple with cultural issues as well as servers, software and networks.

Government and industry sources acknowledge that turf battles will make DHS' integration challenging, to say the least. Technical obstacles include a bevy of legacy systems and the need for secure communications within DHS and between the department and other federal agencies. The Bush administration called the creation of DHS the "largest government reorganization since the 1947 launch of the Defense Department, National Security Council and CIA." One might also call it an integration assignment for the ages.

DHS watchers say the department is borrowing heavily from industry as it takes on its integration chore.

"They want to learn all the lessons they can learn from the commercial and enterprise realm," said Greg Akers, senior vice president and chief technology officer for Cisco Systems Inc.'s Global Government Solutions unit. "They have thought about [DHS integration] as a merger of companies more than a merger of government agencies in some ways."

That merger will be a bit like changing tires on a moving vehicle. DHS must continue to operate systems while it recasts itself as an integrated entity and builds a common IT infrastructure. To facilitate this process, officials have created a stepwise transition strategy, said Lee Holcomb, chief technology officer in DHS' Office of the Chief Information Officer.

For example, one step is to address quick hits, such as the multiagency Terrorist Screening Center, which is creating a database that will combine various terrorist watch lists. In the rationalization step, DHS officials will determine which of the department's existing solutions are critical and need to be retained. Meanwhile, they will begin to move toward common solutions in the stabilization step. And the optimization step will involve the deployment of optimized capabilities.

"It's an incremental process," Holcomb said, "but we've set some strong timelines." For example, officials would like to see a DHS-wide data communications network in place by December. Other priorities for the year include designing an integrated back-office solution and fleshing out the initial take on an enterprise architecture plan. To put the technology projects on a firm business footing, DHS officials may

employ process-improvement tactics that differ from previous government efforts.

The agency is also breaking with federal tradition in its procurement style. For example, solicitations coming out of DHS lean toward performance-based contracting, an approach offering greater flexibility for fielding complex solutions.

DHS established a road map for integration in October 2003, taking the wraps off the initial version of its enterprise architecture. The architecture is designed to help it build a departmentwide infrastructure and identify areas for consolidation.

The first version of the enterprise architecture covers business, data, application and technical reference model layers. The architecture was assembled in a short time frame so "we weren't able to go deep," Holcomb said. This year, however, DHS officials plan to delve deeper into each layer, he added. In the data layer, for example, the department will provide more depth to the model in four business areas — terrorist information, financial, human resources and alerts/warnings.

Dennis Wisnosky, president and chief executive officer of business process consultant Wizdom Systems Inc., said such enterprise architectures are high-level documents that provide a starting point but little else. "They need to follow it up with getting people together from each of the groups" within DHS, Wisnosky said. That's the plan officials have in mind as they add depth to the basic framework with the help of contractors.

"We're moving from mile-wide and inch-deep into the detail," said Karl Kropp, DHS enterprise architecture program manager at Science Applications International Corp., which helped DHS draft its enterprise architecture. The objective is to make the enterprise architecture "something that is actionable," he said.

Another source of refinement is a newly launched effort to develop departmentwide requirements for back-office technology. The requirements analysis will pave the way for DHS' upcoming Electronically Managed Enterprise Resources for Government Efficiency and Effectiveness (Emerge2) procurement. Emerge2 will provide the foundation for DHS' back-office infrastructure, spanning such areas as finance, payroll and procurement.

Of the IT stabilization programs, Emerge2 "is one of the high priorities," Holcomb said, adding that it, as well as mission-oriented applications and quick-hit projects, represents an opportunity to flesh out the enterprise architecture. A request for proposals is expected in May with an award to follow this summer. A phased implementation will likely run through fiscal 2006.

But before that happens, the requirements of numerous DHS components must be assessed. BearingPoint Inc. is taking on that job under a task order awarded through the General Services Administration's Management, Organizational and Business Improvement Services (MOBIS) schedule. BearingPoint officials will document the functional business requirements for a departmentwide resource management solution set.

"The notion is to get all of the disparate agencies and components of DHS into a consolidated solution

NEXT STORY: NASA sets Web mark