Proposed increases in federal technology spending aren’t just for back office operations; they’re also expected to help the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency track down illegal immigrants, weed out illegal job applicants and intercept would be terrorists.
Those are just some of the places where hikes in information technology spending in President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget would be directed, if approved by Congress.
Other departments that got a boost in technology spending included the Treasury Department where more IT investments will help the IRS find tax cheats, and in Veterans Affairs where more IT money will aid veterans in sorting out medical records.
While other agencies – most notably the Defense Department – took cuts in their 2013 proposed IT spending, the Department of Homeland Security (and its ICE agency) is one of several agencies where IT investments are slated to increase.
“Without an investment in technology, ICE would not be able to fully perform investigations,” said a senior DHS official who refused to be further identified.
The investment is part of broader IT spending plans at DHS, which has targeted $1.9 billion for Homeland Security Investigations, most of which require up to date information technology.
“Specifically, ICE continues to modernize the Treasury Enforcement Communication System, ICE’s investigative case management system.
Other areas of modernization include systems for the Cyber Crimes Center, Enforcement Information Sharing, the Forensic Document Lab, Visa Security Program (VSP) tracking, Human Trafficking and Smuggling, and Intelligence gathering and information sharing.”
All of these enhancements work together to enhance the law enforcement and terrorist interception efforts of the department, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who testified Tuesday before the House Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill.
“The FY 2013 Budget supports efforts to leverage IT solutions and the capabilities of our law enforcement and intelligence community partners to increase ICE’s efficiency in screening visa applications in order to identify patterns and potential national security,” the secretary told the committee.
Most committee members were receptive, but earlier in the day, Rep. Robert Aderholt, D-Ala., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on homeland security, suggested that some of the spending in the DHS budget was made up with “unauthorized fees, and unrealistic assumptions.” And he called for expanding the detention capacity for ICE.
The senior DHS official suggested that the TECS IT modernization will improve data cooperation with other federal, state and local law enforcement systems to detect patterns of trade in illegal goods and to target and disrupt criminal organizations that sell counterfeit consumer goods.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks a decade ago, DHS, Treasury, and the FBI have been working to streamline and coordinate communications equipment and information technology so that, literally, all are on the same wavelength.
One of the difficulties experienced in New York City on 9/11 was the inability of various law enforcement and public safety agencies to communicate with each other. Since then, federal homeland security grants and improvements in IT have moved toward dovetailing the communications and computer technology among agencies.
The Joint Terrorism Task Force, for example, an agency that includes federal, state, and local law enforcement officers – many under DHS – have their joint command and control systems up and running with federal grant funds.
Another large piece of the DHS IT budget is a $64.8 million allocation to complete consolidation of data centers of Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to one enterprise-wide DHS data center.
According to the DHS budget submission, the department is moving to in the process of completing a “single, world-class IT infrastructure, capable of supporting a significant organization of approximately 200,000 employees.”
In addition, the IT enhancements will bolster I-9 inspections – those forms that workers fill out to prove they are citizens or at least in the U.S. legally.
DHS “will continue to enforce laws aggressively against illegal immigration and customs violations,” according to documentation that supports IT investments — known in government circles as Exhibit 53– that agencies submit to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Other IT projects getting increased investment funding highlighted in the document include:
- Enhancements to the Secure Flight system – aimed at tightening up on the threat-based watch list matching capability for 700 million air passengers annually. which will increase from $84 million to $101.6 million in fiscal 2013.
- Under ICE, an Intelligence Fusion system that allows authorized DHS immigration officials, law enforcement personnel and intelligence analysts to increase the efficiency of multiple data searches.
- “Frontsight,” a cloud computing-based service providing a common operational picture of nearly real-time awareness of airborne and land-based vehicles at the same time.