Agencies must dine on alphabet soup

Like laborers on the tower of Babel, state and federal IT officials are frustrated in their efforts to share information for homeland security purposes, in part because they speak different languages.

'One thing I have certainly seen in Michigan is that state and federal officials have different terminology,' said Dan Lohrmann, the state's chief information security officer.

Government IT officials often call the same systems and programs by different names, and use acronyms that don't translate easily, he said. For example, Michigan is building an 800-MHz radio system for its state police called the Law Enforcement Information Network. 'That doesn't mean anything to the people in Washington,' Lohrmann said. 'And they use terms that don't mean anything to the people in Michigan.'

For instance, in discussions about GISRA, the Government Information Security Reform Act, Lohrmann said he needed someone to explain the law to him before the meeting could proceed.

'Those acronyms, programs and terms have a whole set of connotations that come with them,' he said. 'Sometimes you get together [with federal officials] and you have to translate for the first couple of hours.'

Reaching an understanding of government and technical jargon will require education, communication and outreach among federal and state IT agencies through organizations such as the National Association of State CIOs, he said.

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