Like the rest of the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security is facing a future of tighter budgets while trying to modernize its IT systems. As the third largest cabinet department, the DHS has struggled since its inception to seamlessly tie together the computer systems of all of its constituent agencies.
But recently, DHS has made some headway in streamlining its infrastructure through the use of enterprise-wide service bundles, trimming data centers and launching a host of pilot programs aimed at getting more bang for the buck.
When the department was established, for instance, it was incapable of consolidating its data centers, said Michael Brown, executive director of the DHS IT Services Office, speaking at an AFCEA event in Washington on Monday. The department first had to create an infrastructure of services and capabilities for its component agencies before it could begin cutting down on the number of data centers. DHS officially completed moving operations from the last of 12 legacy data centers to two data centers this past June, he said.
DHS also needed to create and manage new software environments to support projects and to disband them and reallocate their resources just as quickly, said Mark Schwartz CIO of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who also spoke at the event. Previously, he said, it could take up to nine months to set up test environments to evaluate new software and processes.
The department’s goal was to create an environment that would permit the development and testing of an environment within hours, as opposed to weeks or months. A recent pilot, creating 22 new environments within eight hours, proved DHS is delivering on that goal.
But this success has created other challenges, Schwartz said. While DHS can now quickly set up test and development environments, the steps that allow developers to access that environment have yet to be resolved.
Among its many other pilots, DHS is also running a group of mobility programs. One effort is taking place at DHS headquarters and focused on supporting a small group of 50 users, said Keith Trippie, executive director of the department’s Enterprise Systems Development Office.
One of the goals of the department’s mobile programs is to be device agnostic, he said. As the DHS rolls out its mobile programs, it is working on the infrastructure to manage them. Part of this support structure is selecting a mobile device management system and establishing a process to create and approve applications for use, said Trippie.
One mobile program now underway at Customs and Border Protection allows personnel to scan passports with mobile devices. The goal is to give CBP staff with a next-generation capability, said Barry Brown, CIO of the CBP’s Enterprise, Data Management and Engineering office. While the program is not yet at the bring-your-device-to-work level, he said that it is a goal along with the need to develop and roll out new applications and capabilities.
Because of its national security role, the DHS has developed processes to share classified and secure data with other agencies and departments. One system allows the department to share classified level data with other organizations. The capability is designed to prevent users from sending the wrong classified data to the wrong domain, said Michael Brown of the DHS IT Services Office.
One of the challenges in sharing information across departments and agencies is trust, said Emma Garrison-Alexander, Transportation Security Administration CIO. Trust is vital across all levels, from highly classified information to unclassified but sensitive data. As part of the security aspect of maintaining trust, she noted that the DHS is beginning to deploy continuous monitoring technologies to automatically scan its computer networks.