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Tech Industry

Perspective: Why IT will love Homeland Security

Jay Whitehead says the changing constellation of power in Washington lays the groundwork for one of the biggest technology projects since the space race and will be a boon for the IT industry.

    Last week's congressional midterm election means that the Homeland Security Department will be assembled fast--and that's the best news the technology market has heard since Netscape went public.

    The power shift in Congress means that IT and outsourcing budgets that had been on ice since the dot-com implosion will be thawed and spent. The fact is that war is good for technologists, and Homeland Security will transform Silicon Valley and the Silicon Beltway into one big, fat geek wedding.

    Of course, there are those among us who will worry about the erosion of civil liberties that inevitably flows from tightened security. But it takes only one experience with the terror and frustration of a denial-of-service e-mail attack on your business computers to flush away any concerns about creating Big Brother.

    Inside-the-beltway policy planners talk about the economic impact of Homeland Security as terrorism insurance. But information technology executives think of Homeland Security much more personally and practically. For them, it's a harbinger of new products getting built and IT and related outsourcing projects again becoming recipients of healthy budgets.

    With Homeland Security now a top priority in Washington, those who will get the key jobs are those who know how to put the technology in place to make it work.

    At the same time, technology will now have more friends on Capitol Hill. In the Senate, Susan Collins, R-Maine, a rabid fighter for IT issues, is expected to be the new chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

    Collins used to work for former Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine. Cohen wrote that Clinger-Cohen Act, which has long been considered the foundation for government IT management. Collins is going to work hard to implement Cohen's vision of a technology-driven government on the federal and local levels.

    Of course, there are those among us who will worry about the erosion of civil liberties that inevitably flow from tightened security.
    In the Congress, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., currently chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, is a virtual shoo-in for the chairmanship of the whole Government Reform committee. Those in the know say that Davis has complete mastery over issues critical to passing technology policies that will need to be put in place to make sure Homeland Security really works. And as the beltway's most muscular geek, he is one of us.

    Homeland Security will be the largest-scale reorganization of the federal government since the post-WWII reorganization of 1947. It will draw more money and more talent than any single domestic government effort since the 1941-1945 war effort. More money will likely be spent on technology implementation of the Homeland Security bill than on Y2K.

    On the talent side, Republicans have been given a free hand to exempt federal government employees in the new Homeland Security department from restrictive civil service rules.

    Homeland Security will be the largest-scale reorganization of the federal government since the post-WWII reorganization of 1947.
    Rep. Davis' Digital Tech Corps bill that passed the House in April but has been stalled in the Senate is now ready to start marching forward.

    The Tech Corps means that federal agency and private sector IT managers can swap jobs for between six months and two years. That means that Homeland Security will get the best and brightest from both the public and commercial worlds.

    It's this magical brew of money and mind-power that will make Homeland Security the most significant government project since the space race. For the IT industry, it's also the first truly good news in a long time.