IT Problems Hinder Data Sites That Combat TerrorismBy John Mccormick | Posted 10-15-2007
While more terrorism data centers are coming online and the ones in operation are starting to produce valuable information, the officials who run these sites face a number of challenges regarding information sharing, personnel, and funding, according to the testimony of a government official.
Fusion centers are central sites where local and national law enforcement and intelligence agencies exchange information on crime and terrorism. The first ones were established in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to make it easier for authorities to "connect the dots" — string together bits and pieces of investigative data stored in various information repositories. Today, there are 43 fusion centers, operating in places like Atlanta, Baltimore and New York. However, there are IT issues at several of these facilities that need to be addressed.
Fusion center officials told the Government Accountability Office that while the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have provided access to their networks, many of their staffers can't directly log on to key systems and instead have to rely on federal officials or their designates to pull information, according to Eileen Larence, the watchdog agency's Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues.
Larence testified last month before a House subcommittee on intelligence, information sharing and terrorism risk assessment and is working on a report that she expects to release later this month.
Other officials, she said, say they need to work with national, state and local systems that often compete or duplicate the work of other systems and that there's a lack of integration between them. And when they do get information, some officials said, they often find themselves with volumes of redundant data.
In addition, officials at many of the centers say they need more guidance on information sharing policies and procedures. Many say they don't have a clear understanding of what information can be shared. And many are trying to reconcile national and state privacy laws, which often differ.
Larence noted that fusion center officials have made recommendations and that the federal government is moving on some of them.
She reported that the DHS and FBI are looking to streamline the security clearance process. And, she said, DHS and the Justice Department are working to develop specific data guidelines and polices for fusion centers.
The GAO also found that some fusion centers had problems finding and retaining qualified personnel. But, the GAO noted, both the DHS and FBI have been assigning additional staff to fusion centers
An additional concern reported by the GAO is that most fusion centers are uncertain about the federal grant process, have difficulty securing state or local funding, and are concerned about future funding. The GAO sent a recommendation to the federal government that it more clearly state its funding policies.