Senate would force DHS sharing

The Senate appropriations bill for homeland security has a little-noticed provision that would force the department to share data with other government agencies.

Under the measure, the Homeland Security Department and other intelligence agencies would have to share information with other federal, state and local agencies. The department and intelligence groups would also have to make sure their computer systems are compatible.

"As they stand today, the computer systems of the major agencies which we depend on to protect America cannot communicate with one another," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "In the post [Sept. 11, 2001,] world, that is a situation we cannot tolerate."

Durbin, who sponsored the provision, said it would open communications between law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It is also intended to plug existing gaps in computer systems.

Homeland security officials started working on a departmentwide information system several months ago and have said they expect to complete a plan by October. Durbin said he wants to speed up the process.

The Senate approved the $29.3 billion appropriations bill for fiscal 2004 last Thursday for homeland security. Negotiators must now resolve its differences with the House version of the bill.

The requirement calls for a DHS report within 60 days on the progress of a technology project that would ensure different systems can communicate. It also mandates consolidation of terrorist watch lists and a prompt inventory of homeland security systems, a process already under way.

Failure to share information is considered the biggest blunder of the intelligence agencies in their pre-Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism assessments. A special report last week said officials could have been tipped off about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon if they had been given all the information.

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