DHS scolded over watch lists

Congress criticized Homeland Security Department officials for moving too slowly in consolidating terrorist watch lists and sharing terrorist information.

During a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee today, DHS chief information officer Steve Cooper was unable pinpoint a time that the consolidation would be done.

Responding to Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), who asked who was in charge of merging the lists, Cooper said a coalition of intelligence officials are at work under the guidance of the newly formed Terrorist Threat Integration Center to determine the process to merge the lists.

"They are at work to define the process to which your question can be answered," Cooper said. "Shortly we will have answers."

Tierney responded, "You're kidding me. ... I'm just stunned. To find out now we're almost two years [after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks] and this is still not done is just staggering. This is an abject failure of leadership."

Ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D.-Calif.) said nine agencies maintain 12 different terrorist watch lists, and two agencies have no procedure for sharing information. He criticized the Bush administration for the "pingpong approach," saying the responsibility for the lists has been passed from the White House to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and to DHS.

Waxman also condemned White House officials for disregarding the General Accounting Office's efforts to contact them during an investigation on the issue. The GAO report concluded the administration has yet to fix the problem of agencies maintaining and hoarding separate lists.

Cooper told FCW this week that a consolidated watch list would be ready in the next few weeks, but he declined to elaborate.

Information sharing is a major focus for DHS, Cooper said at the hearing, and it is making slow but steady progress toward merging the various systems and cultures of the 22 components that make up the department. Officials are working on a departmentwide enterprise architecture and expect a workable plan by September.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) questioned how department officials were working to overcome cultural barriers to information sharing. "I appreciate all your work in information technology, but there is a human fault," Lynch said. "What are we doing to work for a change in that culture of secrecy and obsessive control of information in those agencies?"

Cooper said the department has begun to tackle the cultural barriers between the components by creating integrated teams to agree on a shared vision of the department and tactics to sharing information. He said the teams are creating memoranda of agreement that outline specific requirements for information sharing, but the agreements do not include incentives for sharing or penalties for not sharing.

"We've had some good dialogue. We've actually been able to reach some agreements," Cooper said. "We are actually spelling out the mechanisms that will get us to the integration we are talking about."

Since its inception in January, DHS officials have focused on day-one activities, such as implementing a network, common e-mail and a Web site, Cooper told lawmakers. They recently have shifted focus to the enterprise architecture, which will form the framework for their business decisions.

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