GAO finds flaws in DHS' latest data-sharing plans




Agencies that rate info sharing as effective or very effective

'At some point in time, we expect them to be sending information back to the federal level that we can use,' Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says of plans to share information with state and local governments.

Henrik G. de Gyor

The Homeland Security Department has unveiled a program intended to boost its ability to share terrorist information with state and local authorities.

The plan follows on the heels of a General Accounting Office report criticizing the department's information sharing.

During a speech in Washington, Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge described the initiative. The project eventually will let state and local authorities funnel terrorist information to federal agencies as well, he said.

'At some point in time, we expect them to be sending information back to the federal level that we can use' in the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, Ridge said.

DHS has established secure videoconferencing links with emergency operations centers in all 50 states, two territories and the District of Columbia.

All state governors now have secure phones and can receive secure communications, DHS officials said.

The department is coordinating security clearances for five other officials in each of the states and two territories, DHS said.

But GAO's take on the department's sharing efforts was pessimistic at best.

'Overall, no level of government perceived the process as effective, particularly when sharing information with federal agencies,' GAO said. 'Information on threats, methods and techniques of terrorists is not routinely shared; and the information that is shared is not perceived as timely, accurate or relevant.'

GAO based the report, Homeland Security: Efforts to Improve Information Sharing Need to be Strengthened, on a survey of state and local officials conducted between June of last year and this May. The auditors also reviewed studies, reports, testimony and congressional commission files. To access the report online, go to www.gcn.com and enter 156 in the GCN.com/search box.

Federal officials told GAO there were three chief hurdles for cross-government exchanges:
  • The lack of integrated databases

  • The lack of federal security clearances among state and local officials

  • The inability of state and local governments to secure and protect classified information.

Ridge also described other organizational changes that he said would improve information sharing within the department:
  • The Federal Air Marshals Unit and Explosives Unit will move from the Transportation Security Administration to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also within the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security.

  • The One Face at the Border initiative will consolidate the immigration, customs and agricultural inspections via a cross-systems training program so border inspectors will carry out all three functions at once.

  • The department soon will send a plan to Congress to consolidate its grant programs in an online process.

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