Dec 31 2009

At DHS, New Demands Will Reshape IT

This summer's tumultuous hurricane season along the Gulf Coast will lead to a new agenda for the Homeland Security Department—including changes in systems plans, the department's chief technology officer says.

There will be a change in vision and strategy to natural disasters and new plans for who takes the lead on data management, says CTO Lee Holcomb, who spoke at a recent Input breakfast in McLean, Va.

He describes the current approach about when and how the government responds as "a little mushy."

The changing role of DHS agencies in a disaster-response capacity, which until now has mainly been the purview of its Federal Emergency Response Agency, will no doubt also be tied to broader collaboration efforts at the department.

Holcomb says the new data-sharing policy at the department strives to make the current data owners into data stewards, whose chief role would be the sharing of data across agencies within DHS and with agencies outside DHS.

More will need to be done to make data sharing across levels of government easier, he says. Specifically, the mechanism is the Homeland Security Information Network. But in many instances, state and local first-response units in the hurricane-ravaged region did not have license agreements to view some of the data and images available through the network, Holcomb says. Immediately following Katrina, DHS granted immediate waivers to allow access.

But in the long run, the government will need to develop a master plan to assure connections for all state and local agencies and to make data exchanges for disaster responses possible, he adds.

Looks Aren't Everything Online

When it comes to pleasing visitors to government Web sites, the latest public satisfaction scores show that graphics and pretty images can take a backseat to helpful content.

Two sites off the Social Security Administration's home page offer really no images to speak of but this fall received the highest marks on the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index. SSA's site providing help on new Medicare prescription drug costs received a 91 out of 100 on the index, and the agency's online benefits application snagged an 87.

The index report's authors note that the government is keeping pace with industry in satisfying online denizens but with much more limited resources.