Outgoing CIO Raises Possibility Of Spin-Offs At Homeland Security - InformationWeek

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Outgoing CIO Raises Possibility Of Spin-Offs At Homeland Security

Steve Cooper envisions some IT-tied R&D activities being divested to other agencies and says the Homeland Security CIO post should be elevated within the department.

The departing CIO at the Department of Homeland Security envisions some functions not involving the agency's core responsibility to combat terrorism being transferred to other departments. His observations come as the new Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, works on completing in the coming weeks an analysis of the operations of the department, formed two years ago by merging 22 federal agencies.

"You'll see an organizational restructuring, which isn't a negative thing. It's built on learning; it's built on the maturation of the department," Steve Cooper, who leaves as the department's first CIO at month's end, said in an interview Thursday. "I don't think you'll see any wholesale demolition of the department."

The types of functions that could be transferred out of Homeland Security, in Cooper's view, include non-counterterrorism research-and-development activities involving criminal justice or defense IT. "If you look strictly at the narrow framework of criminal justice and law enforcement--technologies solely used in that narrow slice--one could at least put on the table for discussion that it might more effectively belong in the Department of Justice," Cooper said. He cited similar research being conducted with the Defense Department. Cooper declined to provide specific examples, citing national security concerns.

Cooper emphasized he was expressing his personal views, and did not know whether these moves would occur.

As Chertoff rethinks how Homeland Security should function, Cooper says the new secretary should elevate the CIO post within the department. Cooper reiterated his belief that the CIO should report directly to the secretary and deputy secretary, as the law prescribes. The post now reports to the undersecretary for management, three rungs below the secretary's office.

Cooper said his position on the organizational chart didn't interfere with his influence because of his personal relationship with former Secretary Tom Ridge and Deputy Secretary James Loy. But, he said, future CIOs shouldn't need to depend on personal relationships to have access to the department's top leaders. The Government Accountability Office, the Homeland Security Inspector General, and others have called for the elevation of the department's CIO.

The CIO of Homeland Security is one of the relatively few posts in government appointed by the president, and thus is a political appointee. Political appointees could be career civil servants. But Cooper suggests the next CIO should be someone with political expertise who could easily network with Cabinet secretaries and other presidential appointees who run government. "It'll be beneficial to have that kind of connection," he said.

In the half-hour interview, Cooper addressed a number of matters:

• He said he wanted to remain on the job through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, and said that he had the backing of senior White House staffers to stay put. But family matters compel him to leave. "This job consumed 100% of my time, and I couldn't figure how to balance job and family," he said. Cooper has a new job in the Washington area, but declined to publicly identify it.

• Asked if in retrospect creating a Homeland Security department was a good idea, he said it was. Cooper characterized the task of merging the 22 agencies as "huge and scary," but said the efforts already are paying off. For instance, the president now has secure data, voice, and video links to all governors and state emergency operations centers, allowing appropriate levels of classified communications to take place.

• Among his greatest achievements: creating an IT infrastructure where no legacy system existed.

• Another achievement of his tenure: establishing a program to evaluate existing homeland-security technologies used in the states, which if proven useful, can be deployed nationwide. Thirteen technologies involving wireless, geospatial, and IT services are under evaluation; results should be available this summer. The program operates on a budget of $12 million.

• Despite receiving an F grade on cybersecurity scorecards, Homeland Security will get passing grades by next fiscal year, Cooper predicts. Though not an excuse, Cooper notes that Homeland Security, unlike other departments and agencies, is trying to secure IT systems and networks from 22 agencies.

• Cooper's biggest frustration centered on speed. He depicts himself as being impatient and felt disappointed when tasks weren't tackled faster. Being a new agency, Homeland Security didn't have internal processes in place to hasten tasks. "I don't think we could move faster," he said, "but I'm still disappointed."

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