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Integrating America

Integrating America

To pull off this massive reorganisation and integration may take years, which, in terrorist time, could be too late.

The US federal government's homeland security efforts promise to be the biggest change management challenge of all time.

THE DECLARATION OF INTEGRATION

"I propose the most extensive reorganisation of the federal government since the 1940s by creating a new Department of Homeland Security. For the first time, we would have a single department whose primary mission is to secure our homeland" - President George W Bush, from his Homeland Security proposal to the US Congress, June 2002

The September 11 attacks unleashed a wave of antiterrorist actions by the US federal government. Perhaps the most significant was President Bush's call in June to form a massive new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) out of the many existing federal agencies that touch on aspects of national security. The US House of Representatives took up the new legislation and quickly passed its version of the bill last northern summer. In the US Senate, however, the bill became mired in a party squabble over the President's request for power to hire and fire employees in the new department, with democrats unwilling to eliminate civil service protections. As the northern winter loomed, debate continued in the Senate, with hopes that a compromise could be reached.

Yet the transformation of the US federal government is already under way. President Bush created the Office of Homeland Security (OHS), a precursor to the larger department, by executive order in October 2001. Its skeleton crew of executives began scoping out the massive task of reorganising the government, on a scale not seen since President Truman created the Department of Defence following World War II. Uncertain when the new department will come into being or even which agencies it will encompass, the leaders of OHS nonetheless will play a key role in coordinating the efforts of different arms of the federal government, as well as state and local governments, the private sector and the American people, in the fight against terrorism.

Making this mega-entity work, on the other hand, could be as difficult as trying to locate Osama bin Laden. Critics of the new department question whether bringing so many entities and people together into a huge, new bureaucracy is necessary. They wonder how willingly intelligence agencies such as the FBI and CIA, which remain outside DHS but are critical to its success, will share information. They worry that the reorganisation will be too big an undertaking.

The success of the proposed department - and the security of the nation - will, in large part, hinge on IT. "Information technology is extremely important," says Representative Tom Davis (Republican, Virginia.). "It's the thread that will weave the new department together."

Steve Cooper, the CIO and senior director for information integration at OHS, faces the daunting task of integrating the hundreds of systems in the 22 agencies and programs that are currently slated to make up DHS. An even taller order, though, might be getting the 170,000 workers in those agencies to look past their different agendas, histories, cultures and processes and act as members of a holistic enterprise, whether they sit in the Coast Guard or the Customs Service or Nuclear Incident Response units.

Cooper, formerly the CIO at Corning, says the closest analogy to these Herculean labours is mergers and acquisitions in the private sector, but that likeness only goes so far. "We've not found a true equivalent where you have a merger, acquisition and a start-up all coming together at the same time," he says. Yet Cooper is confident that the government can overcome this three-headed monster - because the stakes are too high for him to display any mood other than confidence. Self-assurance is one thing, however. To pull off this massive reorganisation and integration may take years, which, in terrorist time, could be too late.

INTEGRATION OF A NATION

In July 2002, President Bush released the National Strategy for Homeland Security, a product of eight months of consultations with a wide range of people, including governors, mayors, members of Congress, airline pilots, firefighters and business leaders. It defines the mission of the new department, lays out the goals and creates a plan of action. Underscoring the critical role that IT plays in the effort, two of the four foundations of the strategy are science and technology, and information sharing and systems (the others are law and international cooperation).

The White House's strategy guides the work Cooper and Jim Flyzik are doing. Cooper left Corning in March 2002 to join OHS as a special assistant to President Bush; Flyzik works in tandem with Cooper as a senior adviser to Assistant to the President for Homeland Security Tom Ridge. Flyzik is on detail from the Department of the Treasury, where he is CIO. [Editor's note: In November Flyzik announced his plans to retire on December 17 after 28 years of federal service].

Meeting the challenges of technological integration and employee collaboration means tackling four issues, Flyzik and Cooper say: designing a new architecture for the entire enterprise, modernising the many legacy systems, establishing a workable model for knowledge sharing, and bridging the cultural chasms among different agencies that existed long before 9/11. Here's how they are going about it all.

The Architecture. The first area of focus is on developing an enterprise architecture for homeland security. Getting the architecture right, Cooper says, "is absolutely core - a critical success factor - to enable us to make the right kinds of decisions and recommendations around IT investments for DHS and for the appropriate federal agencies".

The master architecture starts by identifying the business processes in the merging agencies; technology discussions come later. "We want to take a look at the functional areas that comprise homeland security: prevention, protection, detection, warning, incident management, response, recovery, public liaison communications - then activities like R&D and IT," says Cooper. "We then want to identify the processes that comprise those functional areas. We then want to identify the information that is most consumed by those processes and produced by those processes." Only after that extended exercise will they begin to look at IT enablement of the business processes.

Along with a concurrent effort at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), this is the first time anyone has taken a holistic look at the federal government's business processes, notes Flyzik. But streamlining processes promises to be a huge headache. Different agencies, even different departments within agencies, have developed different processes over the years. "A background check within one group in the Department of Commerce is different from another group in Commerce, let alone across agencies," says Avi Hoffer, chairman and vice president of strategic alliances at Maryland-based Metastorm, a software vendor with several federal government clients. "There's no consistency of business process."

To begin honing in on functional processes in crucial areas, Flyzik and Cooper have established three working groups - border security, first responder and weapons of mass destruction - made up of federal CIOs. To take just one of those, the border security group, which was chaired by Flyzik, is mapping out all the processes involved from the time a foreign national applies for a visa outside the United States, travels to the country and then departs. "There are about 11 agencies involved in that end-to-end process," says Cooper. He's not yet ready to judge whether there's too many cooks in the kitchen. But, he says, "We do know that . . . every time you make an organisational handoff, you introduce potential time delays, non-value-added work, additional cost and perhaps errors."

If and when DHS gets the green light, the two leaders have identified some top priorities for the agency. One is consolidating the 58 criminal and terrorist "watch" lists; another is establishing a single portal for DHS.

Cooper thinks DHS can build out about 80 per cent of the architecture in 18 months, and complete the IT implementation plan in three to five years. He stresses that the phased, incremental-type approach he's taking will ensure that tangible value is delivered along the way. "I don't want people to think that, Oh my God, they're going to just hole up and hibernate and do all kinds of techy stuff before we have any value. Absolutely not," he says.

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