Homeland security efforts lack coordination, industry heads say

While IT contractors have been invited to share their homeland security and information sharing solutions with the federal government, it's unclear who is evaluating the technologies and making purchasing decisions, several vendors said at a Feb. 26 congressional hearing.

Homeland security "has clearly been communicated as a national priority ... and yet we're unable to find anyone in charge of a coordinated effort within the federal government to evaluate such solutions," said Tom Siebel, chief executive officer of Siebel Systems Inc., San Mateo, Calif. "You've basically invited the private sector to ring any number of 100,000 doorbells in Washington. This is an important issue, we are smart people, and we can do better than this."

The House Government Reform subcommittee on technology and procurement policy called upon private-sector technology firm executives and agency chief information officers to examine the barriers to improving homeland security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Several federal contractors said they are working closely with numerous agencies to develop homeland security strategies and solutions.

"There is a great deal of interest," said Ann Altman, managing director of the U.S. federal unit of Armonk, N.Y., IBM Corp.

However, the contractors said the Office of Homeland Security is simply inundated with IT solutions to homeland security problems. The office, led by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, has been charged with coordinating the government's homeland security efforts. However, it has no budgetary authority, a factor some say could impede its ability to enable better information sharing across government, as well as improved security.

"In defense of the Office of Homeland Security, they must be seen by anybody who ever created anything with a widget, trying to sell them a solution. They are really having a tough time sorting it out," said Alfred Mockett, chief executive officer of American Management Systems Inc. of Fairfax, Va.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said the office doesn't "have operating authority at this time to coordinate anything. Maybe that will evolve over time. ... But at the end of the day, who can make the call? Who can put the procurement out on the street? It sounds like we're not there yet."

The federal government needs to establish a managing partner of the federal enterprise with adequate authority to manage the enterprise, Mockett said.

"This could be the role of the Homeland Security office. At a minimum, the federal enterprise manager must be able to influence the budgets of those departments and agencies involved in this struggle," he said. "If the current agency stovepipe approach continues, information sharing will be the nation's Achilles heel in the ongoing war against terrorism."

Siebel advocated creating a federal CIO, a position popular with some in industry and government but one that has been rejected by the White House.

"This is an interagency problem, and as such, we need to consider an office of the CIO to coordinate efforts across agencies," Siebel said.

Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, ranking member of the subcommittee, said he was pleased to hear support for a federal CIO.

"It would seem to me that when we closely analyze Sept. 11, we should be more even more aggressive in our efforts to call for the creation of such a position," he said.

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