Feds: We must set sharing policies

Justice CIO Vance Hitch says regional data-sharing projects can be difficult to manage because federal law enforcement agencies have to provide unique information flows to many centers.

Henrik G. de Gyor

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

With 89,000 municipalities across the country trying to determine how to respond
to domestic threats, state and local governments could use some help in coming up with ways to share homeland security information and communicate in an emergency.

Speaking at a meeting last month, Homeland Security Department CIO Steve Cooper said he and Justice Department CIO Vance Hitch should provide additional leadership on technology issues.

Being aggressive

'I think we on the federal side have not been aggressive enough [with state and local governments by] putting a stake in the ground and saying 'Here are the standards,' ' Cooper said. He 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, because federal law enforcement agencies have to provide unique information flows to many centers.

'From the law enforcement perspective, there's a lot of these regional initiatives springing up ... 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 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 but said rebuilding the entire state and local IT infrastructure would be impossible. Instead, he said, systems should be tailored to suit 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 advisers, but that information may not reach all 89,000 municipalities, he said. 'Our challenge is, how do we speed this [information sharing and technology adoption] up?'


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/Shutterstock.com)

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected