State leaders move quickly on security

But programs depending on federal aid may take a year to get started

Governors have held lengthy talks with the Office of Homeland Security, headed by Tom Ridge, over growing security costs.

Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift announced last month she is establishing an Internet-based system for state and local agencies to share information about bioterrorist threats.

Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Miner said her state is upgrading its 800-megahertz radio system to better equip public safety personnel.

And North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven said his state has established an electronic network to provide instant communications among its health officials.

In states across the nation, governors are unveiling plans in their "state of the state" addresses to improve homeland security through a variety of information technology initiatives. They want to modernize public safety communications networks and equipment, improve information sharing among law enforcement agencies and establish public-health networks to respond rapidly to biological and chemical attacks.

States will spend upward of $10 billion on homeland security in the one-year period following Sept. 11, said Ann Beauchesne, program director for emergency management at the Washington-based National Governors Association. Similarly, the U.S. Conference of Mayors is predicting that major cities will spend more than $2.6 billion on additional security in 2002.

Governors and mayors recognize, however, that they need substantial federal assistance to carry out planned programs.

President Bush, who will officially release his fiscal 2003 budget Feb. 4, told U.S. mayors that his budget will include $37.7 billion for homeland security. This includes $3.5 billion to improve the capabilities of "first responders"? the police, firefighters and emergency medical teams who answer terrorist attacks.

For several months now the governors have held lengthy discussions with the Office of Homeland Security, headed by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, urging the administration to provide the states with grants and other assistance to subsidize their growing security costs.

They asked the administration to develop a coordinated strategy that would protect critical infrastructure, combat cyberattacks, defend against biological and chemical attacks and facilitate the sharing of intelligence information.

Even if federal aid is approved, however, it's uncertain just how quickly state and local governments can actually start spending homeland security funds.

Industry officials said it likely will be many months before the aid makes its way to the states, and perhaps a year or more before states embark on comprehensive, multiyear projects to improve information security, integrate data systems and enhance public safety communications.

"These systems aren't going to be created overnight. Funding is six months out, and projects are another six months out," said Paul Robinson, practice director for public sector Americas with Deloitte Consulting of New York.

Because of the government's shifting priorities, the more traditional or pre-Sept. 11 IT projects will have a better chance of moving forward if they can be tied to homeland security, industry officials said.

"Homeland security is going to be a label that is pretty important. If you are doing something in another [area] that is not related to homeland security, then it's probably going to be pretty difficult to get funding," Robinson said.

Jack Ginsburg, vice president of public-sector business with Integris Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Billerica, Mass.-based Bull Information Systems Inc., agreed with Robinson's assessment. He said there is a "stagnation" in the state and local IT market right now, because state budgets are in the red, and substantial federal funding has not materialized for homeland security at the state and local level.

Ginsburg said he sympathized with the enormous task that faces state officials in determining which homeland security projects merit the greatest sense of urgency.

"There are so many things happening right now, and so many things seem relevant. How do you prioritize all of that?" Ginsburg asked.

Cheryl Janey, managing director for state and local programs at Northrop Grumman Corp., Los Angeles, advanced this idea even further.

"The money for homeland security is not flowing down [to state and local government] yet, and it's probably a good thing because most states don't know how to use it," she said.

Northrop Grumman sees enormous opportunity to help states with cybersecurity and information assurance, she said.

The TASC business unit of Northrop Grumman specializes in systems engineering and information management for the National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency and other members of the national intelligence community, said Gus Gulmert, a company spokesman.

Northrop Grumman is looking to transfer its experience providing security solutions for the federal government to its state and local customers, Janey said.

"We never thought that intelligence was a real driver in the state and local [market] until after Sept. 11. This is a core business of ours, and the translation of this into the state and local market is a natural business venture for us," she said.

Despite fears that homeland security programs will be slow to develop, governors and state chief information officers said they will do what they can now, with or without federal funding

Thom Rubel, NGA's program director for information technology, said that some projects and initiatives won't require massive new funding. Based on conversations the NGA has had with state CIOs and homeland security directors, Rubel said the states will be able to quickly redirect existing resources for public safety and security.

Although it may be a bigger undertaking to create statewide or national integrated health emergency networks or substantially improve critical infrastructure protection, this is not the case with public safety communications and justice information sharing, Rubel said. Sharing justice information "is not an expensive proposition," he said.

The real cost is not sharing information, but closing gaps in information systems security that leave systems and critical IT infrastructure open to cyberattacks, he said.

Charles Gerhards, Pennsylvania's CIO and deputy secretary for information technology, said governors and state technology officials aren't about to sit idly by, waiting for federal funds to arrive.

"Certainly, it would be beneficial and helpful if there was extra funding coming from the government, but we aren't wringing our hands, waiting for the money before we take action," he said.

A number of large public safety projects around the country that were under way before Sept. 11 are now getting more attention, said Dave Zolet, vice president and general manager of TRW's civil systems program division.

One of these projects is TRW's six-year, $280 million Multiagency Radio Communications System project for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services. Although there have been no major changes to the scope or funding for the project, the company is looking for ways to accelerate it in light of Sept. 11, Zolet said.

"There is a lot of pressure on us to get the project out the door," he said.

Staff Writer William Welsh can be reached at wwelsh@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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