Fusion centers hampered by limitations of DHS nets, IG says
Networks offer limited content and search capabilities
After the federal government has spent more $426 million to build intelligence information-sharing networks between the Homeland Security Department and state and local fusion centers, many users are taking a pass on new systems and using old-fashioned e-mail, according to a new internal audit.
DHS has made progress in developing the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) and its related IT systems that link 72 state and local fusion centers, the DHS Inspector General's office said.
However, because of the networks’ limited capabilities, the fusion center personnel often avoid those systems and rely on e-mail systems for situational awareness and intelligence sharing, the DHS IG's office said in a report on Nov. 15.
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Fusion center participants indicated that DHS' networks were difficult to navigate and search, had limited useful content, and did not offer the capability of searching across multiple systems or DHS databases, the report said.
As a result of those problems, fewer state and local personnel were reported logging into the DHS systems. On average, from January 2009 to May 2010, only 49 percent of the state and local account holders logged in each month. Users who logged in did so only five times a month on average, the report said.
“Collaboration across state, local, and federal partners to ‘connect the dots’ to prevent and deter threats remains a challenge without effective information sharing IT systems,” the report concluded.
DHS’ delivery of unfinished intelligence products to the fusion centers is often substantially late, the IG said. The Homeland Security Intelligence Reports are intended to share unvetted information on suspicious activities quickly.
However, as of March 2010, 144 of the intelligence reports were overdue, and 93 were late by more than 90 days, making much of the information irrelevant. State and local directors blamed DHS headquarters’ review process for slowing down the delivery, the IG said.
The IG's office made these recommendations for improvement:
- Deploy DHS Office of Intelligence & Analysis representatives to fusion centers, when appropriate.
- Coordinate with the DHS National Operations Center to improve fusion center access to information.
- Streamline DHS' review process for unfinished intelligence reports.
- Improve search capabilities and encourage system use.
- Complete installation of Homeland Security Data Network to all fusion centers.
- Re-evaluate the need for the HSIN-Law Enforcement portal.
- Pursue single sign-on and comprehensive search capabilities.
DHS officials agreed with the recommendations.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.