Immigration Services hammers out enterprise architecture

Years ago many people thought government chief information officers were hired simply "to come in and fix your computer"?but the job is vastly more complex and focuses on managing information effectively for an organization, Tarrazzia Martin, CIO for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said today at the FOSE government IT trade show in Washington.

FOSE is sponsored by PostNewsweek Tech Media, the parent company of Washington Technology.

As one of 22 CIOs at the Homeland Security Department, Martin said she deals with an array of challenges all in support of the missions of the department and of the agency.

"The business is the driver; technology is the enabler," Martin said.

In her 14 months at the immigration agency, Martin said she has been working on developing an enterprise architecture, updating existing IT infrastructures and coordinating with other agencies and departmentwide on information-sharing.

For example, she has set up an enterprise architecture organization headed by a chief technology officer and eight technologists focused on data management and on data element and relationship modeling.

The agency also has put together an "as is" baseline architecture describing the current IT systems in place, and is evaluating whether commercial technologies can be used to update the systems and move toward a service-oriented architecture, Martin said.

The agency has recognized the importance of search engines and has picked up some lessons from observing what Google Inc. and other IT companies are doing, Martin said.

One of the basic goals for 2006 is to update and standardize agency desktops to improve consistency, she said.

Martin said the agency also is assisting with pilot projects to implement the Rice-Chertoff Joint Vision: Secure Borders and Open Doors in the Information Age, which was introduced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in January. The two departments will run the three-part program designed to strengthen identity checks at the borders, make legitimate travel faster and more convenient and boost counterterrorism programs.

"We will update our technology to achieve a faster, more secure" method of processing travelers, Rice said in introducing the program on Jan. 18.

Martin's agency has a new director. The White House appointed Emilio Gonzalez in September 2005 to what is considered an undersecretary-ranked position. He was confirmed by the Senate and began his term in January 2006.

While a recent Inspector General's report cited lack of sufficient CIO authority as an ongoing concern at the department on the whole, Martin declined to comment directly on the report.

However, she did say it is important to have high-level support for a CIO to succeed.

"From where I sit, it is imperative to have the chief executive officer in your corner and aligned with the CIO's office," Martin said. "It's all about the mission and not about the technology."

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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