IT Is Recruited for U.S. Defense

After a decade of leaving IT innovation primarily to the commercial sector, the federal government is reasserting its role as a driver of technological advances.

Because information technology is a cornerstone of the homeland defense initiative, the Bush administration seeks $52 billion for it in fiscal year 2003—a 15 percent increase over the previous budget. As a result, after a decade of leaving IT innovation primarily to the commercial sector, the federal government is reasserting its role as a driver of technological advances.

"Fifteen years ago, you saw a real collaboration between the government and private enterprise. We have seen an abatement of that over the last half-dozen years," said Steve Perkins, senior vice president of Oracle Corp.s public-sector division, in Reston, Va. "I think were going to see a good bit more of it now."

Perkins said Oracle expects to work more closely with the federal government to expand cooperative projects already in place. For example, the companys work with New York to create a geospacial database of street assets (such as utilities, sewers, parks and subways) will translate into larger national projects supported by federal funding, he said.

The Bush administration is emphasizing the need for full solutions, rather than piecemeal products and services; at the same time, it is looking for commercial offerings that do not require custom tailoring.

At a forum here last week, Mark Forman, associate director for Information Technology and Electronic Government at the White House Office of Management and Budget, told a group of industry leaders to form alliances to bring complete solutions to the IT problems at federal agencies.

The emphasis on alliances "will force some different behavior in the integration and technology communities," Perkins said. "As we come together to define solutions for the government, there is an opportunity to transfer them to the commercial side."

In IT security technology, accelerated collaboration will likely yield innovations that find their way back into enterprise markets. Of the $52 billion proposed IT budget, $4.2 billion is targeted at cyber-security.

Forman said all federal agency IT systems have security weaknesses that must be resolved, and by the end of next month, he plans to fill all vacant CIO positions at the agencies. In addition, the administration is asking for $20 million to create a program office under the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office that will serve as the portfolio manager for homeland security initiatives.

The federal governments agenda has forced industry players to refocus their resources. Oracle created a homeland defense initiative of its own, which Perkins chairs, and similar measures have been taken at the other major federal contractors.

"What this is causing to happen is HP corporate is looking at the public sector in a different way," said Bernie DiTullio, strategic programs capture manager at Hewlett-Packard Co.s Public Sector Organization, in Rockville, Md. "Most companies have looked at their portfolio of solutions and determined which will be of value to the government in terms of homeland security."

The emphasis on commercial product and service procurement will likely spur further commercialization of high-end systems that were formerly custom-tailored. "Were looking at high-performance computing as an area of investment for HP," DiTullio said, adding that research invested in high-performance computing for the government will likely translate into enterprise uses in things such as DNA research or large data mining applications.

One way to eliminate needless redundancy in federal IT systems is the integration of hundreds of computer systems throughout many agencies, according to the OMBs Forman. Improving information-sharing among agencies and between levels of government is a major effort in homeland defense for which the White House is seeking $722 million.

Money alone wont solve the federal governments IT problems, and improved IT management practices are vital, Forman said. Although federal IT spending was $32.9 billion in 1999 and is projected to be $50 billion in 2003, productivity has not noticeably improved, reports the White House.

The Bush administration will require federal agencies to demonstrate a business case for each investment.

"Some of the largest programs did not give us a satisfactory business case," Forman said. "We want to know how much an agency is going to improve its mission performance as a result of an IT investment."

In a separate, longer-range initiative, the U.S. House of Representatives last week approved the Cyber Security Research and Development Act, which would add $800 million to Internet security research and development projects and provide $300 million for other information security programs at universities and research institutions. Under the plan, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology would create research centers and grant programs.

The IT industry hailed the legislation as critical to increasing the pool of information security professionals and improving information collaboration between industry and government. The Senate has not yet taken up the measure.