Top official's departure could slow info-sharing initiative

The newly formed federal Information-Sharing Environment is at risk of losing steam because its director, John Russack, has resigned after only six months on the job, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said at a hearing yesterday.

"I'm very concerned that this resignation will end any momentum on information-sharing that had been built up and that the state and local law enforcement will continue to lack the information that they need to find and stop terrorists," Feinstein said Thursday at a hearing of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

The Information-Sharing Environment was created under the intelligence reform legislation of 2004. Its initial project manager, Russack, came on board in April 2005, reporting to Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, also a newly created position.

Russack, who resigned last week, will stay on until a replacement is found, according to an intelligence official who spoke on background. "He has indicated he is stepping down because it is time to take on new challenges," the official said. "I have no indication of what he might be doing next." Russack declined a request for an interview.

Negroponte, testifying at the Senate hearing, said he may have found a replacement already: "I've actually identified an individual, but it's the question of clearances and just the processes that we have to go through to be able to formally bring that individual on board."

Negroponte told the Senate members he is working hard to build the Information-Sharing Environment.

"I think we are striving, to the best of our ability, to meet the timelines that have been set," Negroponte said. "We are taking steps to ensure that this information-sharing program continues to have momentum. And you can be certain that we will give it the highest attention at the leadership of the Director of National Intelligence."

Last week, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) author of information-sharing provisions in the intelligence reform bill, also expressed concerns about the future of the environment.

"It appears that our best efforts to implement a 21st Century technology for information-sharing are still far behind," Durbin said in a statement on Jan.26.

Russack, testifying on the status of the information-sharing environment in November 2005, said he had hired 12 employees since April. But he also called attention to budget shortcomings for the environment.

The Information-Sharing Environment lacks a line item budget in 2006, Russack told a House subcommittee, though the initial legislation establishing the environment authorized $20 million for two years. "I am looking for about $30 million to do my job," Russack testified.

Russack previously was intelligence director for the Energy department and held several senior positions at the Central Intelligence Agency.

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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