DHS plots security database

The Homeland Security Department is developing a single security clearance database that will include state, local and private-sector officials who will be authorized to gain access to a secure facility or classified information.

Jack Johnson, DHS' chief security officer, said officials are using the Office of Personnel Management's clearance database, which includes employees, detailees and contractors. They will expand the database to include authorized personnel outside the federal government.

"This is going to be a nationwide clearance network," he said after giving the keynote speech at GTSI's Physical Security Symposium Nov. 9. "Let's say you're in Chicago and you want to hold a briefing that's classified and you want to invite your partners in the area. You will be able to have read access to this clearance information through [the Homeland Secure Data Network] to determine which of your partners has the appropriate clearance that can come to that meeting."

Johnson said his team is uploading all existing clearance information into the Homeland Security Data Network, which officials can use to determine who can access the Defense Department's classified Secret Internet Protocol Router Network.

Homeland security directors in each state will sponsor or nominate state and local officials for security clearances while private-sector individuals involved in homeland security will gain clearance through the information sharing and analysis centers, Johnson said. To better prepare them to defend their communities and infrastructures, he said, they will also receive classified information specific to their locations and needs.

A consolidated clearance network would make it easier for officials to take their authorizations with them when they change agencies, a process that is currently a hassle, Johnson said. Instead of filling out forms and faxing them back and forth, security officers would have access to a person's clearance information through the network.

For example, Johnson said, say an official based in Washington, D.C., needs to visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency office in Los Angeles. He or she would simply notify the security office by sending an e-mail message.

"I fly to L.A.," Johnson said. "I take a cab to the FEMA office. I had sent an e-mail before that to let them know I'm coming. The security officer there looks. He has read access to my clearance information, programs it into the system. I walk up with my DHS smart card. I hit the front door. It recognizes who I am, confirms my clearance and gives me staff access to that facility for that day. No fuss, no muss, no paper."

Johnson, who was appointed DHS' chief security officer about a year ago, said his office is involved in many initiatives for developing policies and procedures to improve security for facilities and employees, including training and education. He and his staff are working with the chief information officer on the department's smart card initiative.

"Many of the initiatives we are involved with remind me of the old Star Trek commercials," he said. "In other words, go where no man has gone before. Quite frankly, that's where we're going in DHS."

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