State info-sharing pilot faulty

The State Department must make major changes in its information-sharing pilot overseas to succeed in identifying potential terrorists applying for visas at U.S. embassies abroad, the department's inspector general said Dec. 19.

The State Department launched a pilot project earlier this year in India and Mexico designed to share information across agencies, using technology to plug security holes that allowed some of the Sept. 11 hijackers to obtain U.S. visas and use them to enter the United States and carry out the deadliest attack on American soil.

The pilot project is designed to test a "collaboration zone" concept that would allow embassies to electronically check a person's name with other federal agencies. However, the IG report said the project has failed to come up with a reliable approach for knowledge management.

The Foreign Affairs Systems Integration (FASI) program's approach to "planning and prototyping the system is not based on adequate analysis of the mission and business processes that the system is intended to support," the report said.

The IG report noted that worldwide deployment of the system depends heavily on the pilot test and evaluation. And poor timing, lack of money and unresolved system and technical problems "have hindered efforts to get pilot users trained, certified and committed to using the system."

As a result of all these problems, the IG said the program needs to be redirected, and the State Department needs to re-examine what agencies need and alternative approaches to sharing information that could stop potential terrorists.

Commenting on the report, the State Department's Office of the Undersecretary for Management agreed with the IG that changes were necessary. It said that the pilot project was intended as a study of the system before worldwide deployment.

As a result of its own evaluation, the State Department has already decided to merge the FASI program with the department's messaging project known as "SMART" as well as look at networks already in place to see if they would work as a data mining tool.

"We concur with the recommendations contained in the draft OIG report," said Fernando Burbano, the former chief information officer who left his position earlier this month, after the report was completed.

"We reached similar conclusions based on our own re-evaluation of FASI," Burbano said in a memo dated Oct. 31.

RELATEDLINKS

State Department IG report

"State negotiates knowledge" [Federal Computer Week, June 24, 2002]

"State tests info sharing" [Federal Computer Week, May 20, 2002]

"State taps Accenture for overseas project" [Federal Computer Week, March 4, 2002]

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