Data mining program near rock bottom

A key data mining program at the Homeland Security Department is on the verge of cancellation if it does not succeed in winning more support within the department, Inspector General Richard L. Skinner concludes in a new report.

The Advise program, which stands for Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement, was created by the Science and Technology Directorate in 2003. It is one of 12 major programs at DHS engaged in data mining, which is the use of IT systems to sift through large amounts of data to identify patterns expected to help predict and thwart terrorist activity. Data mining has been controversial because critics say it is invasive of privacy and prone to errors.

According to Skinner's report, adoption of the Advise program within the department has been slow due to several missteps in its development. Furthermore, three pilot Advise programs have been cancelled due to privacy concerns, and the entire program may shut down unless DHS units help to support it, he wrote.

"Due to a lack of stakeholder commitment, program managers have stated that continuation of the Advise program is in question if an owner cannot be found to pay for future system operations and maintenance costs," Skinner wrote.

According to Skinner, the Advise program is struggling due to several factors in its development, including:
  • Science and technology program managers did not develop a formal business case for the program;
  • Program managers did not address privacy impacts before implementing three pilot initiatives to support Advise;
  • The Advise pilot was not utilized by the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, due to inadequate data access and system usability; and
  • Other DHS components have been unwilling to adopt Advise to support their intelligence analysis operations.

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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