IAIP boss: Cut could impede efforts

Department of Homeland Security

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The acting head of the Homeland Security Department's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection (IAIP) Directorate said a proposed $20 million budget cut next year could hamper the intelligence division's mission.

But Patrick Hughes also said IAIP has improved a great deal in the two years since it was created to collect, analyze and disseminate intelligence information about threats to the nation.

Under the proposed fiscal 2006 budget, IAIP would see its budget decline from the current $893.7 million to a proposed $873.25 million, representing a 2.3 percent decrease.

Appearing before a House homeland security subcommittee Feb. 15, Hughes, who is retiring March 15, answered a wide range of questions about IAIP's effectiveness and needs, including its ability to use open-source information, the amount of contractors it employs, the directorate's relationship with state and local law enforcement authorities, and officials' use of electronic networks to disseminate information.

House lawmakers were also concerned whether the proposed $20 million cut could affect the directorate's mission.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) asked whether the reduction would affect IAIP's ability to hire employees. Hughes said the budget cut is not an assured thing and should not be expected.

"If it is cut back, would you have difficulty fulfilling your mission?" she asked.

"That's true," he said. "I would certainly hope that doesn't happen."

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), who heads the full House Homeland Security Committee, asked whether the proposed cutback would impede IAIP's threat determination and assessment function.

"To the extent that threat determination and assessment is central to your mission, it would disturb me then that we are cutting the budget," Cox said.

Hughes said the proposal should not disturb Cox because the threat-determination function doesn't need that much work once a baseline is laid down.

Cox asked about increasing funding -- about 40 percent -- for the Homeland Security Operations Center, which is usually described as a 24-hour nerve center to share homeland security information with federal, state, tribal and local entities. Hughes said an increase would help meet the needs of information flowing to state and local governments and the private sector.

Hughes also said that information sharing among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies has improved steadily. "Over time, since Sept. 11, [2001], I've seen a marked improvement, and indeed in the past year, there has been a distinct qualitative, quantitative improvement of the information that's being shared in the intelligence community," he said. However, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), a former state attorney general for California, said state and local law enforcement officials say the federal government is still reluctant to share information.

"It is debilitating for them (state and local officials) to be viewed as second-class citizens and to have the feds say that we have the view, we have the knowledge, we have the right to know and you don't," he said.

Hughes said the characterization was "absolutely accurate," but didn't think it was across the board. "It's somewhat circumstantial, but nevertheless it is fact," he said.

He said one way he would like to see information sharing improve is by creating one system. He said, for instance, that systems such as the FBI's Law Enforcement Online and the Regional Information Sharing Systems are linked to the Homeland Security Information Network, which provides secret-level connectivity to state emergency operations centers nationwide, for intergovernmental information sharing.

"I believe that what we should have is a narrowing down of these systems to maybe even one system with one name," Hughes said. But he said that's an unpopular idea because of the investments that were made into these systems.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said she was concerned about the number of contractors being used at DHS. She asked whether Hughes had sufficient budget authority to hire more staff members next year.

"The budget authority is not in question. Finding the expertise is," Hughes said.

IAIP has funding for 803 full-time employees for fiscal 2005 and plans to increase that by 73 for fiscal 2006. Hughes said he could not divulge the number of contractors or analysts. However, he indicated that contractors serve an important purpose as the directorate tries to get to build itself up.

"It's true that contractors have offered us ... some very fine people with some tremendous technical expertise," he said. "We were not able to find it any other way. Those people are costing us more money than a federal employee would. However you can't get that by hiring them off the street. There's a limited supply."

Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), who heads the new House Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee, which held the hearing, asked about the IAIP's capability of using open source intelligence.

Hughes said he's a proponent of it and analysts can connect to the Open Source Intelligence System, which provides numerous search engines, databases, media files, photographs and other features. But he said much open-source information is erroneous unless it is cross-referenced with other data.

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