Snafu prompted HSDN delay

An administrative misunderstanding led to the release of a request for proposals for the Homeland Secure Digital Network before the project had final approval, Homeland Security CIO Steve Cooper said yesterday.

HSDN will be a classified network linking the various homeland agencies.

"We pulled it back to improve it and broaden its scope," Cooper said at a meeting with reporters. He said the officials responsible for HSDN had secured approval from the first of three levels of committees that oversee departmental projects.

"They took that as a green light" to issue the RFP, Cooper said. DHS issued the proposal request on Sept. 25, according to Input of Reston, Va., and withdrew it last month.

"There is nothing wrong" with the HSDN project, Cooper said, and it will now undergo the rest of its departmentwide review.

Cooper is chairman of the first-level committee, called the DHS CIO Council. It can approve projects worth up to $5 million, Cooper said.

The second-level committee, known as the Management Review Council, can approve projects up to $50 million. The third and final committee, known as the Investment Review Board, is led by deputy secretary James Loy and includes the undersecretaries as voting members.

"We will rerelease the request in 45 to 60 days," Cooper said. He added that two more prime bidders, which he declined to name, had shown interest in the project.

HSDN "will be the only network environment for classified information," Cooper said. "This will run internally within DHS and serve as a gateway to external partners."

In a broad-ranging discussion of the department's enterprise architecture, Cooper said DHS officials are reviewing an inventory of about 3,000 systems to determine which ones to keep and which to consolidate. One of the first steps is to acquaint program officials in different units of DHS with similar or related projects across the department.

Cooper rejected criticism that DHS is moving too slowly to evaluate projects for potential consolidation or elimination, and said the evaluation depends largely on subject matter specialists within the department. Those specialists?for example, Transportation Security Administration passenger screening experts?have to perform their regular jobs on a daily basis.

"You want to speed it up?" Cooper asked. "Well, we could shut down the airports for a couple of days" to convene the TSA employees for meetings about their IT systems. "This is complex, a big deal," he said of the systems evaluation.

Amy Wheelock, director for enterprise architecture and planning in Cooper's office, said the department has the responsibility to "First, do no harm," as in a physician's Hippocratic oath. For example, she said, the department would not turn off an IT system for Customs and Border Protection officers without ensuring that the capabilities survived.

Cooper said he expects department officials will begin to decide within three to six months which systems to turn off and which to leave in place.

Wilson P. Dizard III writes for Government Computer News magazine

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