CIOs: State and local homeland security IT needs more federal guidance

CIOs: State and local homeland security IT needs more federal guidance

State and local homeland security IT programs would be more effective if the federal government provided firmer standards and practices, senior federal officials said today.

Homeland Security Department CIO Steve Cooper, Justice Department CIO Vance Hitch and other high-level officials who spoke at an Industry Advisory Council meeting in Washington this morning agreed on the point.

Cooper said he and Hitch should provide additional leadership to state and local governments on technology issues.

'I think we on the federal side have not been aggressive enough [when dealing with state and local governments by] putting a stake in the ground and saying 'Here are the standards,' ' Cooper said as he kicked off a discussion of the issue.

Cooper noted that he was not necessarily talking about specific industry standards, such as those developed by the International Standards Organization, but 'the technology directions and the policies.'

Hitch said regional data sharing projects can be difficult to manage because federal law enforcement agencies have to provide unique information flows to many centers. He recommended that federal agencies come up with methods of providing information to state and local governments.

'From the law enforcement perspective, there's a lot of these regional initiatives springing up, in Seattle, San Diego, Chicago, and they want federal participation,' he said

Once the federal government has established standards and best practices for information flow, it should let local groups process data in various ways, Hitch said.

Frank Libutti, Homeland Security undersecretary for information assurance and infrastructure protection, said factors such as interoperability, complementary functions and sensitivity to state and local needs are crucial to developing effective standards. Federal agencies should be very cautious about imposing regulations on state and local governments, he said.

Peter Verga, the Defense Department's principal deputy assistant secretary for homeland defense, agreed, noting that rebuilding the entire state and local IT infrastructure would be impossible. Rather, he said, systems should be tailored to local needs.

But while the federal government must avoid dictating policy to state and local agencies, it must provide guidance, Cooper said.

'The state and local community expects us to step up into what I am going to call more of a visible leadership role,' he said. 'I think they are ready to act, and what they need to know is 'Where do I make my investment?' '

Cooper added, 'It's possible that we have been a little too collaborative. We are trying to achieve consensus, and I think what state and local governments are saying is, 'Give us some direction and we'll go.''

DHS' state and local office has a weekly videoconference with state and local advisors, but that information may not reach all 89,000 municipalities, he said. 'Our challenge is, how do we speed this [homeland security information sharing and technology adoption] up?'

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