CIOs from across the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shared their insights on recent IT initiatives, cyber security and other issues at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, DC. Panelists included Charles Armstrong, Assistant Commissioner and CIO, Office of Information and Technology, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); Kshemendra Paul, Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment (ISE); Stephen Rice, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Information Technology, Transportation Security Administration (TSA); Adrian Gardner, CIO, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); Joseph Klimavicz, CIO, Department of Justice (DOJ) and Luke McCormack, CIO, DHS.
Moderator Jim Flyzik, President, The Flyzik Group, asked panelists to share some information about progress they’re seeing in IT programs in their agencies. IT modernization was a common theme across the various agencies, with Rice proclaiming 2015 “the year of data center modernization at TSA” and Garner citing governance to support modernization efforts as a top priority for FEMA. Modernization of user-facing technologies is a priority for CBP as well, shared Armstrong, with self-service and electronic kiosks becoming increasingly popular with travelers and enabling efficiencies for both the agency and travelers.
Modernization as it enables efficiency and cost-savings was a key factor for all panelists, as each panelist shared that doing more with less is one of the top challenges facing their respective agencies. While cyber security is also a top concern both inside and outside the public sector, Rice voiced a sentiment shared by all the panelists when discussing their top challenges, “my biggest problem is stretching a dollar.” TSA’s IT budget has steadily declined in the face of IT modernization efforts and increasingly complex security requirements. For CBP as well, trying to keep IT operations up and moving towards modernization, is a challenge in the face of budget cuts and contractor reductions.
While propelling agencies’ modernization efforts forward while balancing budget constraints and the necessity of implementing increasingly sophisticated security solutions, CIOs across the panel agreed that it’s critical to focus not only on technology, but also on people. Armstrong urged attendees to “really listen to your naysayers” to get an understanding of obstacles to modernization and optimization, and to help structure for success. Klimavicz echoed that engagement and ensuring that smaller components across agencies have a say in direction of services and feel they are part of those modernization efforts is key. “No amount of communication is too much,” he emphasized. DHS’s McCormack agreed with this emphasis on communication, “they know how to do their jobs; my role is knowing what they need from me to do their jobs well.”