Setting IT Priorities In Homeland Defense Agency

The yet-to-be-formed agency will need to move quickly to consolidate communications among 22 agencies.
HERSHEY, PA. -- Establishing an E-mail directory and Web portals would be among the first IT activities of a new Homeland Security department, said the White House's top homeland defense IT executive.

Though Congress has yet to pass the bill establishing a Department of Homeland Security, administration officials expressed confidence that such legislation will be enacted early next year, if not sooner. When that happens, the government faces the challenge of bringing together 22 agencies and 170,000 employees. "Things can be done with IT to help the new organization brand itself as a single, stronger entity," says Homeland Security office CIO Steve Cooper.

In its first 100 days, he told government IT vendors at a conference here today, the homeland security department would have to create an E-mail directory so that employees could identify their new colleagues. Then, he said, the department should establish an internal portal so departmental leaders can provide leadership and management directives to workers.

Pennsylvania's CIO, Charles Gerhards, said he likes what he heard from Cooper. He said Pennsylvania saw a dramatic and positive change in how employees worked together after it reduced the 40 E-mail systems being used. He recommended that the new department quickly establish an external portal as well. "You need a single face for that department to break down cultural and physical walls," says Gerhards, named to his job by Homeland Security director Tom Ridge when Ridge served as Pennsylvania's governor. "A portal is a way to give Homeland Security an identify and provide states, local governments, and others important information to share."

Rose Parkes, CIO of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says the new department must fund and work quickly to get back-office IT functions of all the merged agencies to work in harmony if the new department is to operate smoothly.

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