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CIOs Under Pressure

IT officers are getting more efficient, but guess what keeps them up at night?

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2007

those areas. There is a legislative and department reporting through me, and I do have some legislative procurement authority. If it’s over $2.5 million procurement, my office has to approve that. That’s to make sure we’re getting our investments aligned.

Fortnightly: What vendors do you work with on IT management?

Charbo: We use just about every vendor you can imagine. Honestly, every contractor, every national name—there’s too many to list. We use a lot of small contractors you’ve never heard of as well.

They do development for us. A lot of the contractors on my staff are some of those large national integrators. You do not know the difference between them and my staff. You wouldn’t be able to tell a fed from a contractor. They are the ones that answer our help desk. They’re the ones that fix whatever’s broken. Our federal employees are here nights, weekends, and holidays. They’ve got the pagers and the Blackberrys to get things done and fix stuff.

Fortnightly: Is the number of IT workers at DHS increasing?

Charbo: It increases incrementally. I would have to say that the contract staffing increases faster. We’re trying to move away from saying, “I need 100 contractors.” What we’re trying to say is, “We need a service level that meets this expectation. Then let’s price the service level.”

Our contracting staff is increasing. A lot of that is time demands. It’s tough for me to hire X number of feds to bring in, train, etc. Sometimes it’s easier for me just go contract a result for a year, and at the end of that, I’m done and the contractors are dispersed to other contracts.

So you have to look at it from a lot of different angles.

Fortnightly: There are 22 different agencies under you. Which are the major ones?

Charbo: There are seven major departments: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Secret Service, FEMA, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Citizens Immigration Service. But there are a lot of folks up here. We have 22 different IT directors that make up our CIO council. We pay special attention to those seven key components. We’re not going to risk an outage at TSA. During the holiday season, we want especially rigid enforcement controls in place. During hurricane season, every week it’s, “FEMA, what do you need? How can we support you? Where are the weaknesses?”

Fortnightly: The most recent DHS Inspector General’s (IG) report pointed to some continuing weakness in the department’s IT management. What’s your response to that report?

Charbo: They’re an independent arm tasked with auditing, reviewing, and doing analysis. We look at every one of the office’s reports. We don’t always agree with them. Probably half the time the Inspector General agrees with our response, the other times it doesn’t. Then we have to put an action plan together for that.

The things we have initiative for are also the things the inspector general looks at. I break those things down into these areas:

First is infrastructure. We’re aiming for modernization and