Federal IT Integration Takes Shape

The Office of Homeland Security moves forward with plans to integrate disparate data systems across at least 22 federal organizations to improve communication and information sharing.

The Office of Homeland Security is moving forward with plans to integrate disparate data systems across at least 22 federal organizations to improve communication and information sharing.

The office has crafted two high-priority integration programs that are ready to go into pilot phase as early as next month. In addition, the office is working with a number of agencies to create a governmentwide enterprise information portal architecture.

Spearheading the effort is Steve Cooper, special assistant to President Bush, senior director for information integration and CIO for the Office of Homeland Security. At the core of the effort, Cooper told eWeek last week from his Washington office, is the need to identify different data types and metadata and then transform them into a new, as-yet-to-be-determined end state.

"Were trying to move to a single point of decision making and have every decision maker have access to the same information," said Cooper. "I want to make these faster, better and cheaper to deploy and maintain. I want to move as much to the Web as I can, and a lot of this stuff is still server-based."

The first project on Homeland Securitys agenda is the consolidation of 11 "most-wanted" lists of potential terrorists maintained by several federal agencies. The software being developed to organize incoming data into a single form is expected to be operational by Sept. 30.

The second initiative is to create an enterprise portal for Homeland Security that will allow federal agencies to share information more easily.

Both programs will get the green light when Congress passes a $75 million supplemental appropriation bill for Homeland Security IT projects through Sept. 30, which it is expected to do before July 4, Cooper said.

In the meantime, the office is taking part in a federal enterprise program, in which the CIOs of all the federal departments have been directed to develop a standardized IT architecture. The goal is to enable information sharing among all agencies.

Cooper doesnt have to look far for ideas on how to integrate government operations. The Air Force Research Laboratory last month completed a project to streamline information sharing between two technology directorates and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research using commercial enterprise application integration technology from WebMethods Inc., of Fairfax, Va., according to Richardo Negron, chief of technology for the Transfer Branch at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, Ohio.

Mandating an XML messaging format, the integration allowed for the transfer of remote program and financial information from one database to another, where batch information is verified and balanced, said Negron. Even though these two divisions had already been sharing information manually, Negron found the electronic integration more difficult than he expected.

"We learned that something that people might consider simple, like security and encryption, took some work to get that working right," said Negron. "Some people would question if it is possible [to interface] effectively, with a minimum impact on the legacy system. ... We did very minor [code rewriting]."

Homeland Securitys Cooper said he expects similar balking.

"Lets get real. Its cultural, political, organizational; this is where turf comes into play," said Cooper. "Were human beings; we do quirky stuff. Not because anyone is doing the wrong thing, but people have succeeded and been rewarded for certain behaviors. And, guess what, someone just moved everyones cheese. We have to change, and thats not easy."

Cooper is bringing in change management experts from the public and private sectors to help people see the need for doing things differently. If thats not enough muscle, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., has introduced a bill, expected to be considered this summer, that would require agencies involved in fighting terrorism to deploy a common IT architecture.

"A common architecture will facilitate information sharing and efficiency. ... We have too many duplicative functions and programs from agency to agency," Davis said. "Legislation may be necessary to eliminate turf wars."

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