The Circuit

Integration Office a No-Go?

An important information technology initiative of the Bush administration's homeland security effort is the proposed Information Integration Office that would be part of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office. But if Congress has its way, the office may never exist at all, said Steve Cooper, senior director for information integration and chief information officer for the Office of Homeland Security.

Earlier this year, Congress removed the funding request for the office from the fiscal 2002 supplemental bill submitted by the White House. As a result, the administration placed the office and the funding request in the fiscal 2003 budget. But now Congress is getting ready to cut the administration's request for the second time, Cooper said. The reason? "Because they don't think it can be done," he said Aug. 19 at the Government Symposium on Information Sharing and Homeland Security in Philadelphia.

Map Requests Spell Trouble

The U.S. Geological Survey is, at heart, a scientific organization. As such, one of the agency's basic missions is to provide the maps it produces to anyone who requests them. At the same time, it is familiar with national security interests and classification levels.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, USGS officials began receiving e-mail requests from foreign nationals and even from countries such as Iraq and China for maps of locations such as Marine Corps bases around the United States.

This, naturally, sent up a warning flag, said Keith Elliott, executive director of the civil applications committee at USGS, at the symposium in Philadelphia Aug. 20. So the agency formed a partnership with the FBI, and for perhaps the first time in the agency's history, officials are not fulfilling some requests but sending them to law enforcement instead, he said.

System on Alert

Many inside and outside government criticized the White House's Homeland Security Advisory System and its five-level color-coded alert designations when it was announced in March. Most overlooked the other part of the announcement — a request for federal agencies to submit detailed plans with actions to be taken at each level.

Now the Office of Homeland Security is prepping the second version of the advisory system, complete with specifics from federal agencies and input from state and local governments and the private sector, said Stephen King, director of investigations and law enforcement in the office's Threat, Countermeasures and Incident Management Directorate, Aug. 20 at the symposium in Philadelphia.

The office also is working with the intelligence and law enforcement communities to come up with a way to standardize information about possible threats "to a form where we can get it out quickly and get it to as many people as we can," King said. "It's still being worked, we're not where we need to be, but we're getting there."

Homeland Help Wanted

In the homeland security era, every agency seems to be competing for limited resources, and the White House is no exception.

Many officials have been detailed to the Office of Homeland Security in recent months, but key positions, such as the director of the interagency coordination division within the Intelligence and Detection Directorate, are still unfilled. For now, the slack is being taken up by personnel from the office, the National Security Council and even the White House situation room, said Ken Piernick, senior director of the directorate, at the symposium Aug. 20.

Teams for the Transition Planning Office for the proposed Homeland Security Department are also beginning to fill in. But Office of Homeland Security CIO Cooper, who is also leader of the systems team at the Transition Planning Office, said Aug. 19 that he is still negotiating with agencies to get at least three other people for his team. So far, only the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Department have agreed to send the officials Cooper has requested.

White House officials understand the reluctance to give up talented people. If those people are needed at the White House, they are also needed by their agency, Piernick said. But time's a wastin'.

TSA Loosens Up

The traditional federal players are not the only ones grappling with the problem of sharing sensitive or classified intelligence information with the broader homeland security participants.

The Transportation Security Administration provides what is called sensitive security information (SSI) about potential threats to specified officials at the nation's airports. But TSA officials have found that the regulations governing who can receive that information are too stringent for the current environment, where state and local law enforcement and other transportation officials often need to be included in the discussion, said Patricia Durgin, acting director of tactical intelligence at the agency, speaking Aug. 20 at the symposium.

So, within the next two or three weeks, TSA officials plan to propose several changes to the SSI regulations. One of the sticking points: The changes will allow TSA to send out circulars with SSI to a larger audience, an idea that is not popular with many DOT lawyers, she said.

Got a tip? Send it to circuit@fcw.com.

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