Federal Information Sharing Environment gains momentum

The federal government's Information-Sharing Environment is moving forward by hiring additional staff, consulting with a newly created Information Sharing Council and organizing pilot projects, John Russack, the environment's program manager, testified this week.

Russack chairs the council, which was created by presidential Executive Order 13388 last month, as required under the 2004 intelligence reform legislation. Russack reports to John Negroponte, director of national intelligence.

Established to help government agencies share anti-terrorism information, the council will hold its first meeting Nov. 18, Russack said during a hearing held by the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment.

The council is to be composed of representatives appointed by the heads of the State, Treasury, Defense, Commerce, Energy and Homeland Security departments, the attorney general, the director of national intelligence, CIA, the Office of Management and Budget, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and others to be selected by Negroponte, according to the executive order.

"The Information Sharing Council did not exist until a week ago," Russack testified Nov. 8. "That is up. The first meeting will be a week from Friday."

Russack also said his intention is to appoint representatives from state, local and tribal governments as well as the private sector to the council "to help us frame those issues for resolution and help frame options to solve problems."

Reporting on the status of the information-sharing environment, Russack said he has 12 employees now and expects to have 25 by month's end?a major increase from only himself and a single employee in June. Russack assumed his post in April.

The environment's appropriated budget for 2005 was $9.6 million, and in 2006 there is no line item budget for it, Russack said. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 authorized $20 million over two years.

"I am looking for about $30 million to do my job," Russack told the subcommittee. "I think I am going to need $30 million a year to do the job, as a minimum."

Russack said he is managing two pilot programs right now and would like to do 10 or 12. One pilot project is with the FBI field office in New York City to share the intelligence community's sensitive but unclassified information with FBI special agents in the field.

"That has proven to be very, very useful, and very, very valuable to them," Russack said. He hopes to expand it to FBI field offices in Washington and to involve the local police departments in New York and Washington, as well as in other major cities. Some of the information, such as photographs, is being shared on handheld devices, he said.

Another pilot is to provide additional intelligence to the Energy Department national laboratories to help the labs assess terrorist threats, according to Russack.

He said the challenges of creating the information-sharing environment are not technical.

"Most of the problems, as I stated before, are not technical problems. They are roles, missions, responsibilities, authorities, problems, policies that we need to change or modify to enable the information-sharing," Russack said.

"Once we have identified problems in policy, law, culture in the business model and once we define the business rules, technologically, we can build a system that will in fact enable us to share information," he said.

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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