DHS to industry: cooperate, please

The Homeland Security Department wants to streamline its IT infrastructure and clean up its network backbone, and its wants the integrator community to work together to meet the challenge.

"Industry has saved this department over and over again," said Robert West,
chief information security officer. However, he said, going forward, DHS wants integrators to "take the long view" and not expect quick wins.

"Don't try and exploit the startup confusion. No one contractor will corner the DHS market," he said.

West spoke yesterday in Washington at a wireless security conference held by Government Computer News and the Wi-Fi Alliance. Government Computer News and Washington Technology are both publications of PostNewsweek Tech Media.

When DHS became an agency in 2003, it looked for a unifying network infrastructure from among the largest of the 22 component agencies. DHS decided to use the network of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service as the departmentwide network.

"That proposal lasted about two days," West said.

The department ended up mirroring much of the INS infrastructure at two data centers in Atlanta and Kansas City, Mo. Today all DHS network traffic goes through one of those sites. It's not an ideal solution, but it works, West said.

In addition, DHS had to build infrastructure for component agencies that didn't already have it. For that, the department turned to Unisys Corp. for the kind of network systems it was building for the Transportation Security Administration.

The problem with that, West said, was that TSA and other parts of DHS didn't have the same mission, so their network requirements were different. As a result, DHS headquarters now has its own separate network cloud housed in space leased from another federal agency.

"We want to clean up our backbone as soon as possible," West said.

Now that the department is up and running reliably, West said the IT staff is able to "take a breath" and come up with better ways of operating its network. He described a single, centrally managed, wide area network with redundant multiprotocol label switching routers capable of ensuring high security and quality of service.

The department will also be looking for secure wireless networks to meet mission-specific needs. Until recently, DHS policy forbade use of wireless networks, but West said requirements today "pop out of the woodwork and can only be met with secure wireless."

The department has a wireless management office under the Office of the Chief Information Officer to formulate wireless policy, and recently formed a wireless security working group to perform risk assessments and identify secure ways of deploying wireless networks.

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