New Homeland Security Dept. Has Big Budget — And Big Challenges

The creation of a new federal Department of Homeland Security — approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last week and the Senate this week — is the largest reorganization in the federal government since the Department of Defense was created in 1947.

The change will combine 22 federal agencies — including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA — into a single department.

That department is expected to command an IT budget of more than $2.1 billion in 2003, according to a report issued this week by INPUT, a Chantilly, Virginia-based, IT research group.

Topping the IT spending list is the newly-created Transportation Security Administration, which INPUT estimates will have an information technology budget of $700 million next year. The TSA is responsible for passenger screening at the nation’s 429 commercial airports, as well as being involved in security for U.S. seaports, railroads and roadways.

The Customs Service and INS will also have substantial IT budgets. Both agencies are expected to spend upwards of $460 million on technology next year.

The big challenge: integration

The bill passed by the House and Senate includes about $8 million to develop a homeland
security enterprise architecture that will guide future investment.

That?s a key challenge for the new department, which must tie together the IT organizations of seven large federal agencies and numerous smaller offices.

The issues facing the department include database systems that are not mutually accessible and wireless technology that is either outdated or incompatible across the spectrum, according to Jim Flyzik, senior adviser to Homeland Security director Tom Ridge. In a speech last month, Flyzik outlined some of the steps required to create a unified IT infrastructure, including standardizing the agency’s database systems, bringing legacy systems up to par and then migrating those legacy systems to a united architecture.

There are also political challenges. Bureaucratic resistance to integration has been strongest in the border agencies — Customs, INS, and the Border Patrol, according to sources cited by the INPUT report. Entrenched interests in those agencies have sought Congressional protection rather than consolidated functions and resources, according to the report.

The Department will take on four main IT initiatives immediately, including:

– Consolidating the criminal and terrorist watch lists into one comprehensive list
– Deploying a Homeland Security Department portal
– Setting up secure video and web conferencing
– Enabling secure Internet expansion areas to facilitate information sharing between
federal, state, and local authorities

The threat of terrorism has also unleashed a flurry of other new IT-related projects. INPUT says it has counted more than 65 IT projects directly linked to homeland security initiatives, such as a proposed new INS automated entry and exit tracking system. The new system would verify the identities of people entering the U. S., and alert authorities if they are identified as national security threats or overstay their visas.