The time is now for homeland security

WASHINGTON — The clock has started. With President Bush's signature on the enabling legislation, the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is up and — more or less — running.

Dec 1st, 2002

John Rhea

WASHINGTON — The clock has started. With President Bush's signature on the enabling legislation, the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is up and — more or less — running.

This is a formidable enterprise, employing 170,000 people from 22 units of 12 federal agencies. Its projected budget, which is the primary concern of would-be suppliers from the high technology industry, looms as even greater than the official number of $37.7 billion for Fiscal Year 2003, which began Nov. 1 and for which Congress is still struggling to complete appropriations.

The real numbers for this fiscal year look more like $55 billion, according to Tom Hudson, director of integrated information systems at Raytheon Co., who spoke at a seminar at Tysons Corner, Va., on homeland security sponsored by the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association (GEIA).

In addition to the appropriated money, Hudson says he expects an additional $8.4 billion from the U.S. Department of Defense ($4.6 billion of that for physical security in the United States), $4.1 billion for current programs to be folded into the DHS, and a supplemental budget request early next year from the new agency to cover startup operations.

Moreover, Hudson is extrapolating the DHS budget to grow from $55 billion this fiscal year to $63.7 billion by 2008, as measured in constant 2002 dollars of budget authority.

Even more relevant is the industry-addressable portion of that budget, and here Hudson is projecting growth from $10.5 billion this fiscal year to $12 billion in 2008.

A parallel GEIA study envisions 20 percent growth in the homeland security addressable market over the next five years with the emphasis on integrating existing systems and mining knowledge to allow agencies to perform what the organization called "real-time non-repudiated authentication of terrorists."

In another analysis offered by Hudson, he identified the functional areas of this year's homeland security effort as $23.8 billion for border and transportation security, $8.4 billion for emergency response (of which $6.2 billion is to be spent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency); $3.6 billion for countering chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats; $400 million for information analysis; and $1.2 billion for the Secret Service.

He hastily adds, "All these projections assume no more major terrorist incidents [like the one of Sept. 11, 2001]," which could drive up the numbers. Conversely, he notes, another potential problem is a decline of terrorism, which could cause the country to lose interest.

What DHS really is, according to Hudson, is a "holding company" that will coordinate the activities of its subordinate units. Two-thirds of its budget will be for procurement and one-third for operations and maintenance.

In this regard, I find it interesting that in a rare incidence of President Bush and I being on the same page, it has since come to light that he originally favored coordinating the federal agencies' anti-terrorist activities through a White House-level council along the lines of the National Security Council and leaving the agencies where they are. The President presumably bowed to the public outcry to do something now. In this context creating yet another new government agency makes good political sense, although I question its cost-effectiveness.

Perhaps the best description of this process comes from another speaker at the GEIA conference, Steven Cooper, special assistant to the President and director of information integration at the Office of Homeland Security. While his position allows him to take somewhat of a philosophical tack, he does address the nuts and bolts of the problem.

On the philosophical side, he contends that the "vision" is to get the right information to the right people in real time and that the biggest challenge is to find out who are the right people. "This is not a federal strategy ... not inside 495 [the Beltway around Washington]," he says.

What this is about, according to Cooper, is tackling the lack of integration and interoperability across the telecommunications networks and the first responders, such as local police and fire personnel, who put their lives at risk. What the new DHS must do is get all these people talking the same language.

Moreover, this project will have to rely heavily on commercial off-the-shelf technology. "We don't have the time or money to build a network from scratch," Cooper says. He makes the distinction between what he calls the horizontal dimension of integrating the federal environment and the vertical dimension of integrating "everybody else."

The reality is that the first responders will be doing the heavy lifting, and they need the tools to do that lifting. At a minimum, they will need common, interoperable equipment instead of the situation after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, in which the fire companies from the various New York City boroughs couldn't use the fire hydrants in Manhattan because their hose attachments were the wrong size.

At the nuts-and-bolts level, Cooper places special emphasis on supporting geospatial technology, stressing open systems architectures and common standards available to the first responders. He calls this "a target for real investment."

To get the ball rolling, Cooper wants ideas from industry for pilot projects. These have to be completed in three to six months, and he wants results right away. The projects need to cost less than a million dollars each and should involve multiple technologies at multiple levels of access (federal, state, local, etc.) to achieve the goal of interoperability.

I think it is necessary to keep in mind that this is a more formidable undertaking than the creation of the Department of Defense 55 years ago, which this reorganization superficially resembles, because of the added vertical dimension. It is going to require a seamless end-to-end connection based on existing technologies. I fear we're entering a frustrating startup period, but I think everybody agrees that the time is now to get this baby started.

More in Computers