Challenge No. 3: Decide who does what and why

Information sharing, the centerpiece of the administration's quest for homeland security, falls apart at agency boundaries because of 'a lack of connectivity and interoperability,' Randall A. Yim, the General Accounting Office's managing director for national preparedness, told a House panel this month.

'In many instances, the federal government is seen as an unresponsive bureaucracy,' said George H. Bohlinger, executive associate commissioner for management at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He said the IT industry's product pitches too often hit dead ends.

Yim and Bohlinger were among witnesses testifying before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy.

Agencies charged with securing the nation's borders and critical infrastructure often do not know what technology they need, said Mark Forman, associate director for IT and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget.

'I don't think the problem at this point is in the procurement process,' Forman said. 'I think the problem is in the requirements area.'

The proposed Homeland Security Department could help by defining requirements for agencies brought under its umbrella, said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), a member of the Select Intelligence Committee who was briefed on White House plans for the new department. Harman said the department would not be a magic bullet but an enabler for information sharing.

Yim said GAO will issue a report within a month on defining the homeland security mission: learning who does what, how, where and when; and in what form information is needed to do the various jobs.

Border security legislation passed last month already requires immigration, law enforcement and intelligence agencies to integrate databases and share information. The law does not specify how to do it but instead refers to the USA Patriot Act for technology standards.

Under that act, technology standards are to be certified by the attorney general and secretary of State in consultation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Meanwhile, late last week the House Judiciary Committee was set to mark up yet a third data sharing bill, the Chambliss-Harman Homeland Security Information Sharing Act. HR 4598, sponsored by Harman and Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), would require the CIA, the FBI and other federal intelligence agencies to share information with state and local police.

Standards, not specific products, will be key to interoperable databases and networks, industry witnesses said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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