Info sharing requires a change of mind, not hub

Info sharing requires a change of mind, not hub

S.W. 'Woody' Hall Jr., CIO at the Customs Service, says that new laws can't make government information flow more freely, but cultural changes within agencies can.

Agencies must change their mind-set, not necessarily their technology, to expand information sharing, federal officials told a congressional panel last month.

'The primary barriers are cultural rather than statutory,' Customs Service CIO S.W. 'Woody' Hall Jr. said. 'It has more to do with willingness to share.'

State Department CIO Fernando Burbano agreed and told the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy that 'the primary barriers are organizational, cultural and policy.'

Poor information sharing increasingly is seen as a roadblock to the government's homeland security initiatives. Although many local, state and federal organizations do a good job of gathering and storing data, they can't or won't make it available to other agencies.

'Despite longstanding efforts to improve cross-agency relationships, there has been relatively little success' in both developing systems and breaking down cultural barriers, said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the subcommittee's chairman.

State, as the lead agency for the nation's overseas presence, coordinates communications for more than 30 agencies at more than 260 diplomatic and consular posts. It manages everything from classified and unclassified e-mail systems to postal delivery.

Problems overseas

A study done in the wake of the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa found the U.S. overseas presence led by State 'perilously close to the point of system failure.'

The department soon is expected to award a contract for the pilot Overseas Presence Interagency Collaboration/Knowledge Management System for embassies and consulates in India and Mexico. If successful, the online work environment could spread worldwide.

The Transportation Safety Administration, created in the wake of Sept. 11, collaborates with agencies such as Customs, the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as well as with local law enforcement. So far, the organization is taking a low-tech approach to the sharing effort: paper, said the agency's CIO, Patrick R. Schambach.

'As a first step in addressing information stovepipes, TSA is drafting memoranda of understanding with these partners to promote data sharing,' he said.

Although he is considering ways to integrate more technology, Schambach said the biggest problem could be the 'attitude that information is power and needs to be hoarded rather than shared.'

Davis questioned Schambach about the feasibility of a frequent-flyer identification card to speed passenger screening at airports.

'That's a thorny issue,' Schambach said. He was unwilling to commit himself on biometric technology and expressed doubts that an ID card would provide adequate security.

'I don't know that trusted today means trusted tomorrow,' he said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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