New Homeland Security Department aims for IT compatibility

The new Homeland Security Department announced June 6 by the Bush administration will affect scores of major programs and contractors as the government attempts to pull together parts of 19 different agencies and organizations to create a unified front against terrorism.

The creation of the department could lead to the most ambitious information-sharing architecture in history, producing "a single daily picture of threats," President Bush said during an address to the nation.

The proposed department's $37.4 billion budget and 170,000 employees would be drawn from existing agencies to control borders and integrate information from federal, state and local jurisdictions. Homeland security adviser Tom Ridge is the leading candidate for secretary.


At a White House briefing yesterday, a senior government official told reporters: "Right now, we don't have compatible systems for homeland security. All the agencies have different IT budgets. It is our hope that as we send special legislation to the Hill, there will be a new IT capability."


The official said the administration hopes Congress will give the new department "freedom to manage so they can move people and resources around as needed." The official added that the new department's leaders would not have to worry about the platforms used by component agencies if they were merged in a single system.


"This should bring a lot more efficiency to the management of technology," the official said.


Among the programs affected by the change:


*Coast Guard: Deepwater, a $9.8 billion umbrella program for new vessels and equipment. Awards so far have gone to Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Science Applications International Corp.


*Customs Service: Automated Commercial Environment, a $1.5 billion modernization program held by IBM Corp.


*Federal Emergency Management Agency: Server consolidation.


*Immigration and Naturalization Service: Entry-Exit System, still in the pre-RFP stage, estimated at $380 million.


*Secret Service: Hardware systems upgrade.


*Transportation Security Administration: A nationwide IT infrastructure, a $1 billion project in the pre-RFP stage to provide telecommunications, networking and desktop services.


The information systems chiefs from the agencies that will be merged into Homeland Security are:


*Coast Guard: Nathaniel Heiner


*Customs Service: S.W. "Woody" Hall


*FEMA: Ronald Miller


*Immigration and Naturalization Service: Scott Hastings


*Secret Service: Stephen Colo


*TSA: Patrick Schambach


The Coast Guard has about 43,000 full-time employees, and the newly created TSA is still trying to hire 41,300 full-time workers.


Chet Lunner, director of public affairs in Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta's office, said the president's announcement would not affect the activities at the TSA, now under the Transportation Department.


"Secretary Mineta spoke to all of us in advance of the president's [speech]. He said there would be no change in our approach to [becoming] an agency providing first-class security, first-class service," Lunner said. "This proposal will take some time to unfold, but we can't slow down. I didn't see anything in the president's remarks or the meetings I attended to indicate any change in philosophy. ... I don't think there's a big debate over the direction TSA is going."


TSA is anticipated to release a request for proposal this month for a nationwide IT infrastructure valued at $1 billion.


The Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, with 8,620 and 124 employees, respectively, also will contribute to the border and transportation security components of the new department.


A spokeswoman said Agriculture has no details yet. "I guess all the other important projects within those agencies by definition become second priority," said Dennis Taitano, director of the budget division of the Farm Service Agency. "I think that's the cultural change we're going to have to go through."

The National Communications System, an interagency group that gives communications support during emergencies such as Sept. 11, would move 91 people to the new department with a budget of $155 million, a Defense Department spokesman said. NCS is the only Defense agency whose workers would shift to Homeland Security.

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