The president's budget includes more funding for IT projects-and time is of the essence.
Tom Ridge championed a wide range of IT initiatives as governor of Pennsylvania, including systems that let public-safety agencies collaborate over the Internet. When President Bush named Ridge director of homeland security in September, it was assumed that IT would play a vital role in domestic defense collaboration. Now it's in writing.
Bush presents his 2003 budget plan to Congress this week, and in it he calls for $37.7 billion to be spent on homeland security efforts. That includes funding for an IT-intensive collaborative project to help the Immigration and Naturalization Service track foreign visitors and for standardizing emergency communications among local public-safety personnel now using incompatible wireless networks. Homeland defense spending across all fronts will propel overall IT spending by the federal government to $52 billion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Overall, the Bush administration is seeking funds for nearly 3,000 IT projects. One reason for the more than 10% increase over current spending levels is the Office of Management and Budget's requirement for agencies to better secure their IT systems.
The need to share information is critical, says Connecticut CIO Regan.
Officials in the Office of Homeland Security plan to work with OMB to coordinate IT initiatives with federal, state, and local officials--good news for state CIOs who have a working relationship with OMB but still haven't had much communication with Ridge's office. "We want a seat at the table," says Connecticut CIO Rock Regan, president of the National Association of State CIOs. "We should be developing a common blueprint on how systems work together."
Norman Lorentz, chief technology officer for OMB and de facto CTO of Homeland Security, says he envisions a blueprint that steers government IT procurement toward off-the-shelf technology and even more outsourcing contracts than the government already awards. Many efforts may begin as modifications to existing federal programs. By using packaged systems and outsourced services, the government hopes to save money and, more important, time.
It's hoped that moving fast on collaborative efforts will help avert terrorist attacks that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week said could be deadlier than those of Sept. 11. "There's not enough time to take 1,000 programmers to create custom solutions," warns Steve Rohleder, managing partner of Accenture's government practice.
With Congress set to debate Bush's budget, IT vendors, integrators, and consultants are tailoring their products and services for government clients. American Management Systems, EDS, and Unisys are going after contracts related to homeland defense by packaging products and services such as biometric, access-control, and smart-card offerings.
And Siebel Systems Inc. says it's begun implementing a modified version of its customer-relationship management suite at a handful of federal and state agencies for use in tracking terrorists. The agencies are adapting the same CRM technology that banks use to learn about and serve customers to coordinate data about known and suspected terrorists, says Frank Bishop Jr., VP of Siebel's public-sector business. Like businesses, he says, "governments have silos of information systems that contain data that needs to be shared." Bishop declined to identify the agencies involved.
Increased reliance on commercial technology would radically alter federal procurement processes, says Leif Ulstrup, head of homeland security initiatives at American Management Systems. "Government has traditionally been of the mind-set that it wants things to be unique, but that's changing, and this is going to hasten that change," he says.
Not everyone's convinced. Off-the-shelf software might seem cheaper and faster initially, says Keith Comstock, special assistant for technology to West Virginia's governor. But in some situations, the government could wind up spending "three times as long and five times the money" to modify a package that looked good but ultimately doesn't fit the bill, says Comstock, who's also the liaison between the state CIO group and the federal government's CIO Council. The council, which includes the top information officers at each federal agency and is headed by Mark Forman, OMB associate director for IT and E-government, is expected to lead development of intra-and intergovernmental IT answers to domestic defense problems.
In addition to counterterrorism and homeland security, a major goal of federal IT spending in the coming fiscal year is to improve the economy, Forman said last week. Approximately $18 billion will go toward 900 "major" projects and another $11.5 billion toward 2,000 other "significant" projects, he said.
One problem that's getting $380 million worth of attention in the president's budget: developing an INS database to identify foreigners who overstay their visits or are considered threats. The database would be linked to other agencies to keep tabs on foreigners.
But getting the technology to work well may be less of a problem than overcoming agency turf wars and political and privacy concerns. Previous efforts to coordinate INS work with that of local law-enforcement officials plodded along or were abandoned after protests by immigrants' rights groups.
Bush also has earmarked $3.5 billion for emergency-response programs, including funds for communications systems among public-safety and medical staff who arrive first at disasters. On Sept. 11, many police, fire, and medical workers couldn't communicate with one another because of incompatible wireless and radio networks and IT systems. Another program in the budget would give emergency personnel priority access to wireless networks.
Congress should be more receptive to increases in IT spending than in previous years when technology projects often couldn't win against more constituent-friendly programs. "After Sept. 11, it's easier to get people on the Hill to understand," says former Commerce Department CIO Roger Baker, now executive VP at IT integrator CACI.
Congress, which will review Bush's budget in coming months, isn't expected "to write a blank check for technology, particularly when it comes to federal agencies," says Melissa Wojciak, staff director of the House Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy. Congress recognizes the need to facilitate homeland security, she says, but "we have to hold the government accountable and understand management plans before we throw money at the problem."
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