New IT program office to help with homeland security

Ron Miller, FEMA's chief information officer, said the new office will "build the framework" for how the federal government shares information.

The federal government is establishing an information technology program office within the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, which will be responsible for implementing federal information technology initiatives related to homeland security, said a top federal official.

The new program office will provide a communications framework for agencies across all levels of government, said Ron Miller, chief information officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Miller, who is involved in the effort, spoke March 7 at a conference hosted by Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va.

"This is the office that is going to manage the funds that are going to come through the [federal] budget for homeland security initiatives," Miller said. "The office also is going to build the framework for how [the federal government] does horizontal as well as vertical information sharing."

Miller did not provide the official name of the newly established entity, and the Office of Homeland Security could not confirm the details at press time.

The Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, or CIAO, was created by presidential directive in 1998 to coordinate the federal government's initiatives on critical infrastructure assurance. The CIAO's primary aims are to raise issues that cut across industry sectors and ensure a cohesive approach to achieving continuity in delivering critical infrastructure services.

President Bush has authorized FEMA to manage the proposed $3.5 billion in block grants that would go to local governments to aid police, firefighters and emergency response teams that form the so-called first responders. The grants will be managed by FEMA's Office of National Preparedness, said Lara Shane, a FEMA spokeswoman.

Miller said the federal government is going to provide "a secure communications suite" to the states that will enable state officials to receive classified information about terrorist threats. To fund this, the federal government has set aside $7 million, which once it is distributed to the 50 states and U.S. territories will amount to about $124,000 for each entity, Miller said.

"We will provide [the states] with the grant money, and then they will purchase the equipment in whatever combination is efficient for them," he said.

FEMA is a natural for this role because of its history providing funds for natural disasters before, during and after the events, Miller said.

About the Author

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

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