Attention Information Technology workers: Uncle Sam will
eventually want you to volunteer for the National
IT Guard included in the landmark Department of Homeland
Security bill that is now law.
But first, Uncle Sam needs you to wait while the whole thing is
organized, which includes merging and reorganizing no less than 22
federal agencies and 170,000 employees in the new cabinet-level
federal department. And that will take some time, by some estimates,
possibly another year before volunteer IT workers could be organized
into the concept of a National IT Guard.
"We ask that people be a little patient," said Carol Guthrie a
spokesperson for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the main sponsors
of the National IT Guard legislation, which has sparked a flurry of
inquiries from IT executives about how to volunteer.
Called the Science and Technology Emergency Mobilization Act, or
NET Guard Act, the bill was included in the Homeland Security
legislation that President George W. Bush signed
into law on November 25th. The department has a budget of $37.4
billion, including $2.12 billion for IT measures alone.
The NET Guard portion calls for the formation of a National
Emergency Technology (NET) Guard, a group of technology volunteers
at the ready to help restore communications and technology in the
event of a terrorist attack.
Before anyone can volunteer to become a part of the NET Guard,
the Department of Homeland Security has to be organized, and that
process has just begun. Eventually, the department will be organized
into four divisions: Border and Transportation Security Emergency
Preparedness and Response, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and
Nuclear Countermeasures, and Information Analysis and Infrastructure
Protection. It is still unclear which division would coordinate the
NET Guard effort of organizing technology volunteers.
Within those divisions at least eleven separate offices are to be
created, and staffed with officers such as Deputy Secretary of
Homeland Security and Under Secretary of Information Analysis and
The massive job of creating the new department may explain why
some technology experts are somewhat skeptical of the NET Guard
idea, even though they laud the effort for organizing a rapid
response, tech-savvy team of volunteers.
Michael Drapkin, the founder and CEO of IT consultancy Drapkin Technology,
said he was glad to see the NET Guard provision included in the
homeland defense bill. But he also questioned whether a true
National IT Guard could be effectively organized, especially after
his experience mobilizing IT volunteers to help businesses impacted
by Sept. 11.
"One of the lessons we learned with our World Trade Center IT
Mobilization Consortium was that very few firms are interested
in taking advantage of those free services, even those with severe
disasters. The big firms mostly had disaster recovery plans in
place, and the smaller ones that didn't merely ceased to exist," he
said. Drapkin called NET Guard "a good idea on first viewing, but at
the end of the day it will bring little or no benefit. Firms really
only want one thing (during a disaster) -- cold hard cash."
The bill offers none of that. Indeed, grants are out of the final
bill. A $35 million appropriation that the Senate had approved for
pilot programs to promote interoperability of communications systems
among emergency response groups was not approved in the final
measure of the legislation.
But the Homeland Defense legislation does includes the creation
of a technology clearing house whose function would be to help the
public find the right department within the department to reach out
to with volunteers of technology expertise.
"NET guard is about (organizing) people and equipment," Guthrie
said. "The clearing house is about ideas and development. It's the
idea of providing a portal for the public sector to bring ideas and
expertise to the government." And it could be an informational
service to steer volunteers to the right federal agency.
Where the technology clearing house is organized depends on how
the Dept. of Homeland Security itself is organized, and it's safe to
assume that much tweaking awaits the actual process of organizing
the new department.
Still, with all the work yet to be done before IT volunteers can
put their services to work, Guthrie said getting the NET Guard bill
included was critical to Sen. Wyden's proposal to bring private
sector technology experts into the process. "It's an idea close to
his heart. He really believes it will be effective in improving
security for the country."
And after all, the new law calls for the department to not only
focus the resources of the federal government, state and local
governments, but those of the private sector and the American people
in order to accomplish its mission of protecting the country from,
or responding to, terrorist attacks.