Fusion centers suffer information overload

Dozens of state and local intelligence fusion centers operating nationwide are having difficulties juggling the multiple information systems that provide them with data, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Forty-three fusion centers were operational as of September and another 15 are in development. They have been created since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with a goal of advancing information-sharing among law enforcement authorities to improve domestic counterterrorism intelligence.

The centers are receiving federal assistance from the Homeland Security and Justice departments and from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. They are being incorporated into the national Information-Sharing Environment established by Congress in the intelligence reform legislation.

But even with federal aid, the centers are having a hard time managing the inflows of data, the report said.

"Fusion center officials cited challenges accessing and managing multiple information systems," the GAO report states.

The fusion center managers said it was difficult to access relevant and actionable information and to manage multiple, competing or duplicative systems, the report said.

"For example, officials in 30 of the 58 centers we contacted reported challenges related to volume of information or managing multiple systems. As a result, these center officials said that their ability to receive and share information with those who need it may be limited," GAO said.

The Interagency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group and other entities are working to solve those problems, GAO said.

Fusion centers officials also have complained that there is a lack of training available to meet specific missions. Furthermore, there are problems with obtaining and using security clearances, with hiring appropriate personnel and with obtaining funding for operations, the report said.

Federal officials in March issued a draft document outlining baseline capabilities to be developed at the fusion centers. But it is too soon to know whether the guidance has been helpful, GAO said.

The National Strategy for Information Sharing, issued in October, states that the federal government will support fusion centers with funding, technical assistance and training. However, some center officials are questioning what types of assistance might be available and for how long.

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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