What's thwarting the sharing of homeland security information?

PHILADELPHIA ' Scanty funding, turf rivalries, congressional inaction and policy clashes are holding homeland security information sharing hostage, current and former political leaders said today.

Money is a key problem, said retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who was among the speakers at the Information Sharing for Homeland Security Conference.

"It's very difficult to get funding," Clark said. He described a three-tier structure for procurement that keeps systems from getting approved: a bottom tier of procurement officials, a middle tier of systems chiefs and a top tier of administration-appointed officials.

Often ideas generated by industry can't get heard because they never get beyond the procurement officials, Clark said. "They are tough. You come to them with an unsolicited proposal, and they say there is no requirement for it and it's not in the right format," he said.

There is also an issue of systems coordination and interoperability for the Homeland Security Department, Clark said. He compared the department's problem to that of corporations that merge and said the typical response is to jury-rig links among the systems.

"I know there are turf wars," Clark said. "There are a number of reasons for walls between agencies. The way to stop the turf competition is with [financial] resources."

He further recommended creation of a Homeland and Community Defense Association that would let its members alert one another and the public to security threats. He said this could replace the nation's existing emergency broadcast system.

Clark, who many have speculated will run for president, said the administration has not articulated a clear national strategy for homeland security. He criticized the administration's policy of fighting terrorism abroad first and cited the comments of first responders he has met and who have told him they lack key equipment.

"If you try to run this country on the principle of pre-emption, you are going to lose," he said, adding that he has not decided whether he will seek the presidency.

One way to help settle the turf disputes and resolve oversight problems is to realign congressional authority for Homeland Security, said Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

Congress needs to grant full program authorization powers to the Homeland Security panel, he said. Oversight is split among several House committees, he said, and the select committee needs more than rhetorical power.

Weldon, who is a former fire chief, said he "is convinced that the two things that will help us most [in the war on terror] are intelligence and information sharing."

But the two items depend on the government doing away with stovepiped systems, he said. "It's extremely difficult for me to explain to people that agencies don't cooperate," Weldon said. "Our big challenge has been to take down the barriers."

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