Skinner: DHS info network falls short of vision

The federally run Homeland Security Information Network is ineffective in supporting information-sharing among federal, state and local officials as it was intended, according to a new report from the Homeland Security Department Inspector General Richard Skinner.

The secure, unclassified network links DHS with police, fire and emergency departments throughout the country. It received about $21 million in federal funding this year.

Skinner found fault with the agency for speeding the network deployment without obtaining enough opinions from users on how to structure its connections to best meet everyone's needs. Department officials neither developed clear policies and procedures nor furnished adequate training, the report said.

The network is not being used regularly because there is lack of trust among users, and it has not proved useful in delivering greater awareness of threatening situations and other information, the inspector general reported.

"Users are confused and frustrated without clear guidance" on the network's role or how to use it to share information effectively, the report states.

State and local officials are avoiding the network and are using telephones instead, the report concluded.

DHS created the network 2003 as an extension of the Joint Regional Information Exchange System. The forerunner connected California and New York police departments with federal intelligence agents. Although the agency expanded the information network to reach all 50 states within a year, the network split off from the regional information exchange in mid-2005.

JRIES officials in 2004 criticized the department for rushing the network into operation without adequate consultation and training, contending that the rapid timetable increased misuse, security breaches, privacy violations and user confusion, the inspector general 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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