Feds see need for info-sharing assertion

Federal officials need to be more assertive in providing technology guidance to state and local agencies for information sharing, several federal officials said this week.

"We have not been aggressive enough," said Steve Cooper, the Homeland Security Department's chief information officer, during an Oct. 14 Industry Advisory Council-sponsored panel discussion on information sharing. State and local officials "need us to kind of put a couple of stakes in the ground and say here are the standards."

Cooper said he didn't mean impose actual standards — such as those developed and administered by the American National Standards Institute, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc., and the International Organization for Standardization — but in a looser sense of the word, such as technology direction.

After the event, Cooper said federal officials might have been too collaborative in dealing with local jurisdictions for sharing homeland security data.

"We're trying to achieve a consensus, and what I think the state and local [officials are] saying is, 'We want to achieve consensus, but you know what? Give us some direction and we'll go,'" he said.

In many cases, local officials have neither the experts nor the financial resources to implement technologies, and Cooper said the industry can help them with that.

"But unless we stick a stake in the ground, my contention is we may take too long at the expense of achieving consensus at the risk of having something happen," he added.

Richard Russell, who heads DHS' Information Sharing and Collaboration Program, said federal and local government officials are dealing with issues of implementation, scalability and outcome. "What is the degree to which we prescribe the technology that they must use versus provide the standards?" he asked.

Russell said any solution must be a two-way information-sharing conduit while allowing the local jurisdiction to adapt to their particular needs. "But we're trying to make sure we have plugged all those stakeholder representative groups that can give us that input and that kind of advice and assistance," he said.

Vance Hitch, the Justice Department's CIO, said federal officials need to promote a preferred way of information sharing through certain standards.

"We can point you [local officials] to examples," he said. "We can say, 'Here's best practices,' but we don't want to control how you're going to be making those assessments or what you're going to do because, frankly, a lot of people come in with preconceived ideas."

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