DHS assembles info-sharing parts

The Homeland Security Department is slowly improving its information-sharing capabilities, a DHS official said today.

"We're basically on the right track, but it will be a while before we do everything that needs to be done," said Martin Smith, program manager for information technology information sharing in the Homeland Security Department’s Office of the Chief Information Officer.

Smith works with DHS' Information Sharing and Collaboration Office, which was created in 2004 to improve the department’s information-sharing processes and systems.

DHS is creating a nationwide network for sharing sensitive information and getting the right information to the right people in time for them to take effective action, Smith said.

He used a puzzle analogy to illustrate the department's progress toward creating that system. The first stage is ad hoc sharing, with puzzle pieces randomly distributed. The second is managed sharing, with pieces loosely organized.

The third stage is defined sharing, with pieces lined up. The last is optimized sharing, with the pieces all fitted together.

The department is currently between the first two stages, Smith said.

DHS has taken a number of steps to improve information sharing, he added. In addition to creating the Information Sharing and Collaboration Office, it has brought together project managers from most of its directorates and agencies to create a "core of people with cross-cutting knowledge of the department," Smith said. Their mandate is to improve information sharing and prevent the stovepiping of information, he said.

The department is creating templates for procedures and for identifying stakeholders, Smith said. The goal is to cut down on the time between a request for information and the delivery of information, he said.

"In order to do more information sharing, you need more control over information," Smith said. "You have to narrowcast it instead of broadcast it to the people who need it and prove that that's what you did."

Who gets what information depends less on subject matter or people’s organizational affiliations and more on what they need to know to do their jobs, Smith said. A key policy goal is creating a common understanding of the roles and responsibilities of different jobs and granting access to information based on that, he said.

DHS must also find ways to persuade its own agencies and its federal, state, local and private-sector partners to share all their information, Smith said.

Smith spoke at FCW Events' Web-Enabled Government conference. FCW Events is a unit of FCW Media Group, which publishes Federal Computer Week.

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