Info sharing at heart of strategy

National Strategy for Homeland Security

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The single information technology business plan outlined in the long-awaited national strategy for homeland security is a critical step toward making technology really work toward the national mission, according to administration officials.

The national strategy released by President Bush in a Rose Garden ceremony July 16 outlines many technology initiatives to support the structure of the administration's proposed Homeland Security Department.

But it also sets out a single business plan for technology that's focused on information sharing and is vitally important to moving past the boundaries in place at the federal, state and local levels, said Steve Cooper, senior director of information integration and chief information officer at the Homeland Security Office.

"Unless there is an overall charter or business strategy...then the resulting information technology enablement of whatever the strategy is doesn't look beyond the organizational boundaries," he said.

The national strategy creates six "critical mission areas" to be addressed by the four divisions of the proposed department. The six areas are:

* Intelligence and warning.

* Border and transportation security.

* Domestic counterterrorism.

* Protecting critical infrastructures.

* Defending against catastrophic terrorism.

* Emergency preparedness and response.

Each area has five to 12 specific initiatives building on and organizing work already under way at the federal, state and local levels. Many initiatives focus on how technology can support homeland security efforts, Cooper said, and they build on the concept championed by the Office of Management and Budget in its e-government initiatives -- collect information once and use it many times at many different agencies.

The key to this effort is identifying and maintaining databases of record, which will collect and provide access to information for multiple agencies. This is an area of the business plan that will likely cause a lot of "interesting" discussion, Cooper said.

Another wide-ranging initiative is the directive to "secure cyberspace." The national strategy to specifically address cybersecurity will be released in September, said Howard Schmidt, vice chairman of the federal Critical Infrastructure Protection Board. Federal officials have been working for more than a year on this strategy, an effort renewed last October under the Bush executive order creating the board.

White House officials will be asking for additional ideas and input from the government and the private sector on the strategy to be released in September, particularly regarding products and solutions to problems raised in the strategy, Schmidt said. Following that input, another version of the strategy will be released in January 2003.

In addition, the homeland security national strategy has two "foundations," crosscutting issues that impact every area of the strategy: coordinating science and technology research and developing information sharing systems. Two major initiatives in the latter area include creating central databases to supply trusted information and developing a dynamic homeland security information architecture.

Partnering with the private sector is a key feature of the strategy, which will mean calling on industry and academia for products, best practices and research, Cooper said.

The strategy also outlines many initiatives for the legislative branch, identifying areas where federal and state laws could be enhanced or created to better enable the government to fight terrorism.

Right now, ideas for legislative changes -- such as proposed exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act to promote information sharing with the private sector -- are in the evaluation phase, as officials try to determine whether the changes are needed and what the potential implications of the changes could be, Cooper said.

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