Homeland security networks require coordination: GAO

The Homeland Security and Justice departments have spent $893 million on information-sharing networks in the last two years but still do not have effective networks in place, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

The greatest concerns raised are with the $32.4 million Homeland Security Information Network, which is supposed to coordinate with state and local partners but which has been underused, GAO said. DHS rushed into setting up the network without taking an inventory of existing information-sharing initiatives underway. As a result, the homeland security information network may be duplicative of other programs, GAO said.

Furthermore, department officials did not effectively strategize and coordinate with state and local efforts, including the Regional Information Sharing System and the Joint Regional Information Exchange System, the report said.

For example, the regional sharing system officials said DHS officials met with them twice, once in 2003 and again in 2004, and then stopped communication with no explanation, the report states. DHS officials told GAO they could not remember the meetings and said the officials involved had left the department.

GAO recommended that Homeland Security evaluate major state and local initiatives and work on coordinating its activities to avoid duplication. Department officials agreed with the recommendations.

The two departments currently operate 17 networks, of which nine are federal-only and eight have state and local partners. Two of the federal networks are top secret, two are secret, 12 are sensitive but unclassified and one is unclassified. An additional four networks used by the departments operate on the Internet.

Major networks within the departments include the $175 million Transportation Security Administration network for sharing alerts, fingerprints and other information in mission-critical functions and the $122 million Customs and Border Protection network for sharing sensitive but unclassified information related to border security.

DHS is deploying the $75 million OneNet network to link seven existing networks for the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, headquarters, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the TSA.

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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