GAO: Much Work Remains in Information Sharing Effort

By Joseph Straw

Stakeholders in the intergovernmental, cross-sector Information Sharing Environment (ISE) mandated by law after 9-11 reported progress this week to members of Congress, while the government’s top watchdog said huge issues remain unresolved.

The Intelligence Reform And Terrorism Prevention Act (ITRPA) of 2004, based primarily on recommendations of the 9-11 Commission, established the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to oversee all government intelligence efforts and charged the DNI with creating a universal ISE encompassing federal agencies, state and local partners, the private sector, and foreign allies.

Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, investigator Eileen R. Larence of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the Program Manager-ISE (PM-ISE), Ambassador Thomas McNamara, has achieved a “measure of success.”

McNamara’s office, nevertheless, needs to better define its own role as well as the full scope of the ISE, and, perhaps most difficult, devise performance metrics for the ISE’s effectiveness, GAO found.

Larence noted that PM-ISE’s existing milestones and performance metrics primarily reflect administrative actions by government agencies, i.e., establishment of policies, authorities, and procedures. They do not, however, adequately assess whether people are actually sharing information.

PM-ISE “generally agreed” with GAO’s findings, Larence testified.

A positive note came during the testimony of James M. Thomas, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, who addressed an issue at the core of the nation’s post-9-11 information sharing efforts: culture.

I do want to tell you that in my 39 years of law enforcement experience I have never seen such a strong willingness to share information among the local, regional, state, and federal partners. It is clear that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been working very closely with state entities in developing strong collaborative teams in this regard. I have participated in and have seen the benefit of this collaborative approach not only in Connecticut but also throughout the country.

McNamara presented the committee, led by ITRPA co-authors Chair Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) with his office’s second annual status report on the ISE.

The annual report highlights recent successes such as the establishment of the Interagency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group (ITACG). Composed of veteran state and local officials posted to the National Counterterrorism Center, ITACG advises federal officials on how best to craft refined intelligence products for agencies around the country. Further, this spring the White House mandated adoption of a single “controlled unclassified information” (CUI) designation to replace the government’s more than 50 often conflicting classifications for sensitive but unclassified information.

The report also summarized PM-ISE’s top goals for 2009, the year in which the ISE was originally slated to reach maturity.  The goals include implementation of a policy for CUI administration, expanding state fusion centers’ access to government data portals, and adaptation of federal IT systems to complement the ISE.


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