Critical to the success of state and regional intelligence fusion efforts, according to the federal government, is “sustainability.” Translation: Make sure that your state’s fusion center can survive lean fiscal times and the absence of federal grant funding.
The first of those two contingencies has arrived, and the second is probably coming. While the federal government has spent at least $380 million to aid establishment of fusion centers nationally, most expect the federal government will turn off the spigot.
“I don’t think the intention was for [federal funding] to be permanent,” says Will Logan, homeland security program director for the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices. “The idea was a shared responsibility and for the federal government to help with the start-up and then for states to take over.”
And, as Logan says, “in the current economic climate, that’s very difficult.”
If federal partners could document how shared state information is used to detect threats, that might help fusion centers convince state legislatures to provide more funding in a period of tight budgets, says Lance Clem, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety, which operates the Colorado Information Analysis Center.
“We would like to know what becomes of the information we’ve pushed up and be able to describe to state legislators what happens,” Clem says. “Now we’re only saying what incidents we passed on, but we have no idea how much of it has really paid off.”
While centers vary in their scope and funding sources, Harris placed the start-up cost of a center like DIAC at $1 million, and annual costs average around $300,000. Generally, federal funding helps with start-up and analysts’ salaries, while states pay a fusion center’s rent and administrative salaries.
Lt. Tom Brackin, of DIAC and the state’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Unit, points to IT maintenance as an unresolved cost burden. Fusion centers like DIAC, which uses commercial analysis and case management applications, must purchase software upgrades as they come out or go without tech support. “You’re forced to buy the upgrade, because the companies won’t support the old system,” Brackin says.
Another issue is scope. The centers’ core mission remains counterterrorism, although many states see a benefit to broadening the mission. They have taken on an “all-crimes” or “all-hazards” model, with the latter incorporating natural and accidental threats.
To the great frustration of guiding stakeholders like PM-ISE, the media has branded the trend “mission creep,” a military term implying unintended expansion of responsibilities. The approach is viewed instead by insiders as a matter of synergy and common sense.
“I don’t know how you can tell something is terrorism-related until you’ve investigated it,” says Carter of Oklahoma’s OIFC. “There are all kinds of ways to make money illegally, and those dollars can be used to fund terrorism.” As Porter of Iowa’s IIFC says, “Information does not come in labeled ‘terrorism.’”
State stakeholders agree that the country has achieved much in terms of information sharing. Norris, of Arizona’s AcTIC, feels that some federal partners are still hesitant.
Moreover, both Wormeli, of the IJIS Institute, and Utah’s Squires say that federal and state officials must do more to educate the nation’s rank-and-file police officers about what to look out for to improve the likelihood of detecting terrorist threats.
Progress in intelligence collection and analysis is evident in the growth of fusion centers, but that’s only a beginning, and challenges persist. The information-sharing effort, says Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Michael Downing, “is just getting its legs.”
Joseph Straw is an assistant editor at Security Management.