DHS Blasts FEMA's CIO, IT Infrastructure

The Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General said poor planning and management are hindering the agency's efforts to repair IT problems.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

April 22, 2011

3 Min Read

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has blasted the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) for IT infrastructure and management that is grossly insufficient to support the organization's disaster response activities.

FEMA's CIO does not have a grasp of the administration's IT resources or needs, and efforts to modernize and update its IT systems--which lack focus and clear objectives--have stalled, according to a report by the DHS Inspector General.

FEMA's IT problems outlined in the report are not new. The agency historically has struggled with maintaining IT systems adequate enough to support disaster-recovery efforts, the DHS IG said, citing a list of reports dating back to 2005 that highlight FEMA's IT struggles.

Its lack of IT infrastructure to support disaster-recovery efforts during major hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 in particular "exposed numerous limitations in FEMA's IT foundation and system capabilities to support emergency support operations," according to the report.

FEMA has a number of infrastructure modernization initiatives aimed at solving its historical IT problems, but a lack of focus and planning is hampering them, the DHS IG said.

The agency is undertaking several projects based on guidance from the DHS IG and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), including an effort to consolidate networks into DHS' OneNet network; a data-center consolidation project; the creation of a service-oriented architecture to support an integrated environment for the operation of FEMA's various programs; and a desktop migration to Microsoft's Windows 7 OS.

A major problem stalling these modernization efforts is an incomplete documentation of the agency's enterprise architecture, which must be done before plans can move ahead, according to the DHS IG.

FEMA also has not developed a comprehensive modernization plan with clear goals, nor has it developed guidance for implementing a plan, according to the report.

"Without these critical elements, the agency is challenged to establish an effective approach to modernize its information technology infrastructure and systems," the DHS IG said.

FEMA is working to address some of the issues identified in the report. The agency is developing an official systems inventory, which should help move its consolidation and modernization efforts further along. Moreover, its CIO has taken steps to provide agency-wide guidance for IT development efforts according to a standard IT lifecycle approach. However, the latter effort is going slow because of increasing costs and time required to complete IT development as part of the new process, according to the report. FEMA did not respond to a request for comment.

The DHS IG has made several recommendations to FEMA as it works to solve its historical IT issues. For starters, the agency should cover the basics--develop a comprehensive IT strategic plan with clear goals and complete and implement its documentation of its enterprise architecture, according to the report.

FEMA also should establish both a complete enterprise IT systems inventory and an agency-wide IT budget planning process; ensure that all IT initiatives and systems development efforts align with its mission; and establish a consolidated modernization approach for its mission-critical IT systems that include DHS plans for integrated asset management, financial and acquisition solutions, according to the report.

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