New home for Information Sharing Environment draws criticism

President Bush's decision Thursday to place Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte in charge of the newly created Information Sharing Environment is a bad idea that will reduce the powers of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a leading scholar said today.

"We created the Homeland Security Department in 2002 and put the onus on the secretary for information-sharing, and now we continue to marginalize that by giving these responsibilities to other people," said James Jay Carafano, senior policy fellow for defense and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation.

"We are continuing to diminish the power of the Department of Homeland Security. Personally, I don't think it's a good idea," Carafano said.

The White House issued a memorandum June 2 to implement Section 1016 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

In that section, Congress created an Information Sharing Environment to share terrorism information among federal, state and local officials. The law designates a Program Manager "responsible for information sharing across the federal government."

Bush named John A. Russack, the Energy Department's intelligence director, as program manager in April.

However, Congress did not specify to whom the program manager would report. The 9/11 Commission recommended in its March report to the president that "the overlapping authorities of the Director of National Intelligence and the Program Manager should be reconciled and coordinated ? a result most likely to be achieved by requiring the program manager to report to the DNI."

That is the line of authority Bush ordered in the June 2 memo.

However, Carafano said, establishing an "operational" information-sharing office with the intelligence director may prove a distraction from the director's duties to coordinate the numerous intelligence agencies.

"I don't like the idea of the Director of National Intelligence running anything, since the director was supposed to be coordinating what everyone else is doing," said Carafano. "Giving him operational responsibilities detracts from the program."

The reassignment of information-sharing functions is being performed without much public debate and with a lack of clarity about what the new programs will entail, Carafano said. For example, it's not clear whether the new Information Sharing Environment will be primarily a policy program or an IT program with a budget for IT resources. Congress did not approve a budget when it created the environment.

"There were a lot of things with this act that Congress pushed through without any deep forethought," Carafano said. "Will [the environment] be a policy program or just an IT program?"

In the event the environment becomes a substantial IT program, Carafano cautioned that Congress should ensure that the program has clear requirements, adequate resources, strong leadership and realistic deadlines.

"The next question is, 'What is the plan?' And where is [the information sharing environment] going to fit?" Carafano said. "We've just saddled the DNI with a rock."

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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