Fed Agencies Seek Secure Connections

By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2001-10-22

WASHINGTON-The fact that two men involved in last months terrorist attacks were on an FBI watch list and yet were not flagged by the airlines, airline security or other agencies is not lost on federal officials.

Responding to the need for better communication among their various arms, several U.S. government agencies have issued informal requests for proposals to systems integrators, asking for suggestions and tools to help accelerate the integration of their disparate applications and databases.

As enterprise application integration software vendors such as WebMethods Inc. and Tibco Software Inc. prepare responses, it remains unclear how much politics will define which applications and databases are integrated.

Sandy Berger, former national security adviser, speaking at a WebMethods seminar on technology integration and security here last week, said the most serious issues blocking rapid integration are more about policy and politics, not technology.

"Databases equal budgets," said Berger, who is the chairman of Stonebridge International LLC, in Washington. "If [agencies] give up control of their database, they give up their budget. There is nothing people in government will fight harder for."

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget began formulating an inter-agency integration plan in August, but Mark Forman, associate director for IT and e-government at the OMB, said the tone of the daunting project changed after Sept. 11.

"Theres been a bigger recognition that the business architecture has been so convoluted. We have to find ways to simplify," Forman said, in Washington. "The other change is that before, we were talking about [integration] in terms of compliance and social services. Now, its how we deal with threats to national security, anti-terrorism and grants management for the situation in New York."

Some projects that have sprung from the terrorist tragedy are under way. Tibco, of Palo Alto, Calif., has signed on with the Department of Defense to build a real-time advanced command and control system. Tibcos Active suite of middleware is being installed at a major command center at the Pentagon to provide real-time integration through a portal to critical military personnel for operations, planning and execution, both in the United States and overseas, according to Tibco.

In addition, as a member of the U.S. Department of Transportations Airport Security Team, Tibco and others are examining real-time communications technologies and their ability to address government and military integration challenges.

Separately, WebMethods is working with public safety software developer Centurion Solutions to develop a prototype to integrate its 911 software with systems at the Federal Aviation Administration. The goal is to give local law enforcement agencies that operate the 911 computer-aided dispatching system an automated link to federal agencies. During last months hijackings, local 911 operators had to manually look up the contact information of the FAA when a passenger on a hijacked plane called 911.

Centurion, of Sewickley, Pa., is working with the California Highway Patrol and the Sacramento County (Calif.) Sheriffs department to define security requirements for airports and state buildings and how they will work with an FAA integration.

The scope of the integration work that lies ahead is mind-boggling. The OMB has categorized the work of the government into 30 lines of business—such as policy making—each of which is performed by about 19 of the 24 Cabinet-level agencies. "Thats a lot of overlap," Forman said.

And the projects wont be done quickly. Centurions 911 project, for instance, will take six to 12 months just to refine the requirements.

Among the issues that each project needs to define is what information should be shared and what type of integration platform should be used. Integration could be done at four levels—data sharing, through a message broker, application to application and back end to back end.

Former CIA chief James Woolsey said that privacy must be protected when data is exchanged among agencies. But, in some cases, legislation has been passed that makes it impossible for certain organizations to share information with other agencies, he said. Woolsey added that it is essential that information be disseminated on a need-to-know basis.

"Something is going to have to be done to protect us from the wonderful openness of the Internet," said Woolsey, a partner in the law firm Sheq & Gardner, in Washington. "We have to figure out a way that the only people who get information are the ones who are supposed to and not some hacker."

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