CIAO poised for homeland role

The Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office is preparing to play a new role in the Bush administration's homeland security effort as the organization responsible for determining the future of information sharing across all levels of government.

The fiscal 2003 budget includes a request for $20 million for the CIAO to form an Information Integration Office, which will design and help implement an information architecture that will enable agencies to share information across their technology silos.

"We really need to make [information sharing] a permanent part of our technology infrastructure in this country," Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, said at a Feb. 4 briefing.

The government will gather much new information for homeland security that must be available to the right people at the right time, but agencies are still having trouble sharing the information they already have, he said.

The new office — which the Bush administration expects to keep open for no longer than two years — will support the Office of Homeland Security's efforts to improve basic information-sharing processes and the ability for officials at all levels to government to access the information they need.

It essentially will manage homeland security information technology initiatives, Mark Forman, associate director for IT and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget, said at a Feb. 5 briefing.

The office will study databases available in the private sector as well as within government in order to do its work, Kenneth Juster, undersecretary of Commerce for export administration, said at a Feb. 5 press briefing. The CIAO is one of the offices within the Commerce Department's Bureau of Export Administration.

The point of the office is "to identify existing gaps and overlaps in the system," he said. The private-sector databases under consideration include those holding information on business licenses, driver's licenses and credit reports, he said.

"Clearly, there are pockets of data that exist not only throughout the government but also in the private sector," Juster said. "Clearly, there are pockets of data that we don't share...where we don't make the best use of the information we do have to deter terrorism."

The potential for information sharing to overstep personal privacy is a concern to which the Office of Homeland Security will be paying close attention, Ridge said.

He pointed out that the administration included in the budget write-up for the homeland security initiatives that "controls will be developed to ensure that this initiative is carried out in a manner consistent with our broader values of civil liberties, economic prosperity and privacy."

"This is just the first step toward a longer discussion [on privacy]," Ridge said.

Graeme Browning contributed to this story.


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