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10/29/2004
05:20 PM
Bradford Brown
Bradford Brown
Commentary
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On The Horizon: Securing Borders With Information Analysis

Risk-assessment and supply-chain analysis are paramount to safety.

A trade disruption could "paralyze the economy," according to a report by Forrester Research. It cites the estimated $2 billion-per-day cost of the 2002 shutdown of West Coast ports and asks, "Are our supply chains less vulnerable now?"

Cargo containers move 80% to 90% of the world's freight. The federal government is moving toward screening all containers for radioactivity, yet ABC News has twice shipped a 6.8-kilogram cylinder of depleted uranium across the world and smuggled it into the United States undetected by port security. "It's simply not possible to open every container," Elaine Dezenski, director of cargo and trade policy at the Department of Homeland Security, said last month ("Ports Spend Millions On New Tech To Protect Borders And Waterways," Oct. 8, 2004).

The Bush administration has launched initiatives to identify more effectively high-risk freight. "Information is the key to improving many of our border and transportation systems," said Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security at Homeland Security in a press release.

Forrester conjectures that "the next terrorist attack is likely to be staged though a supply chain." If that's the case, then risk assessment and analysis of the supply chain would seem paramount.

As a result, the federal government is attempting to maximize the technology it has available, integrating new hardware and software while hardening systems. However, it's doing this in a political environment, not really a business environment. The focus isn't truly on business-technology optimization, but rather on government-technology optimization. That's different in a number of ways. Government-technology optimization means more than making the most of IT. It means trying to make transformations within the culture of a bureau that's managed under the umbrella of a national policy agenda. Structural and cultural issues that historically have made it difficult for the federal government to make optimal use of technology and related information analysis include a lack of continuity across administrations; management silos; budget concerns; a dysfunctional procurement process resulting in a jumble of systems; lack of information analysis and sharing among agencies; and changes in the structure of agencies and the creation of new ones.

The battle is against the clock. Can the federal government make the necessary changes to optimize technology and make better use of information, or will we have another terrorist incident first?

Business-technology optimization is a key part of delivering business value. No matter how much we would like to see the government managed like a business, there will always be broader political concerns. Securing the homeland through risk management, vulnerability assessment, technology optimization, and analysis has to be a priority. Yet success in the federal government is measured by the political case. The flip side of Forrester's supply-chain question asked repeatedly throughout the presidential campaign is, since the events of 9/11, "are we more secure?"

The short answer to both questions is yes, but there's a lot more that needs to be done.

Bradford C. Brown is chairman of the National Center for Technology and Law at the George Mason University School of Law. Reach him at bbrown2@gmu.edu. (Any opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the George Mason University School of Law.)


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