Call made for homeland strategy

Brookings Institution report

The Bush administration is headed in the right direction with its homeland security budget, but in the absence of a national strategy, the ways information technology can truly help have not been realized, according to a report released April 29 by the Brookings Institution.

The Bush administration plans to release its homeland security national strategy in July, and without that strategy there are too many opportunities for gaps in applying resources, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee's Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, said at the release of the report.

The report, "Protecting the American Homeland: A Preliminary Analysis," is the Brookings Institution's proposal for creating that comprehensive national strategy as soon as possible.

"We need a strategy, and we need it now," Harman said.

The report outlines four broad areas: border security, domestic prevention, site defense and contingency planning.

Information technology can and should be used in each area to take advantage of knowledge and information across the many organizations and agencies involved, said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in the Brookings Foreign Policy Studies group who worked on the report.

IT can be particularly helpful when it comes to information sharing efforts, but it also is a critical tool for streamlining every program and making each more efficient, O'Hanlon said. This includes efforts such as inspecting cargo ships, where IT can be used to provide a central system for dispersed ports and personnel, he said.

"We have to be more assertive in sharing information in real time," he said.

Technology can also play an important role when it comes to ensuring identity, especially smart cards and biometrics, but only if there is sufficient security in the application process to guarantee that the wrong people are not being authorized, Harman said.

And when considering the privacy and civil liberties concerns raised by the use of those technologies, officials should consider that the technology often can provide better protection through better control than the equivalent paper-based processes, said James Steinberg, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Studies group.

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