Integrated IT network in new agency worth expense

The benefits of creating an integrated homeland security network will far outweigh the costs, technology industry representatives said on Thursday.

Getting an integrated IT network up and running will be expensive, according to Christopher Baum, vice president and research area director for Gartner Research, an information technology consulting company. But once an integrated system is developed and implemented, it will actually help reduce IT costs, he said at a forum on technology's role in homeland security.

For instance, an integrated network would allow the department's 120,000 employees to communicate over long distances without having to set up face-to-face meetings. This would reduce travel expenses, save employees time and allow workers to escape the risks inherent in travel.

An integrated system would also be more efficient because it combines the networks of 22 agencies that currently operate "as isolated silos, with little capability to communicate outside the organization and its constituent population," allowing them to share resources, according a report published by Aspect Communications, the technology provider that hosted the forum.

Security is more of an issue than cost in the long run, Baum said. He pointed to the inherent conflict between the government's need to provide citizens and its employees with access to as much information as possible, and the homeland security department's need to keep some information secure and hidden from potential terrorists or other people who might exploit it.

"What is needed is the appropriate balance and the appropriate tools so that the good guys can find the bad guys and stop them in time," Baum said.

Biometric or other rigorous checks would be necessary to make sure that only authorized users had access to information on the network. An integrated IT network in the Homeland Security Department would also need to include systems such as firewalls to detect threats, a system to help determine the nature of the threat, a way to notify users that a security breach exists and the technology to contain any cyberattack.

The system will also need a proactive method of monitoring potential threats and preventing them before they take place, the Aspect report added.

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