Homeland Security Information Network is underused

The Homeland Security Information Network came under fire today from the Homeland Security Department’s Office of the Inspector General, which said management and trust problems have undermined the project.

HSIN was intended to be a network for developing and disseminating threat alerts, notifications and warnings among public safety organizations, emergency personnel, and state and local officials.

But privacy concerns and inadequate planning and resources have stymied efforts to make HSIN a viable information-sharing solution for government agencies, said Frank Deffer, DHS’ assistant IG.

"The many systems planning and implementation issues...hindered DHS' ability to fulfill its essential coordination role," Deffer said today during a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee.

He said those issues include too few DHS employees to support HSIN users and legislative requirements that vary among states. Privacy considerations that could potentially mobilize civil liberties organizations have also played a role in thwarting HSIN's acceptance, as have cultural attitudes among security officials, who are not accustomed to exchanging information.

Deffer said he found that state and local law enforcement users are not committed to using HSIN and prefer other information systems, thus perpetuating the problem of stand-alone government information networks.

Charlie Allen, DHS' chief intelligence officer, acknowledged the problems his agency has had with HSIN and told the subcommittee that DHS is taking steps to make it easier to use.

"I believe the way this was handled was not at all effective," he said.

Allen described plans for splitting HSIN into two parts: HSIN-Intelligence to handle unclassified information and HSIN-Secret to handle classified information. The latter would be similar to the Defense Department’s Secret IP Router Network, he said.

Subcommittee members added their own criticism of HSIN. "The program is…a missed opportunity to do things right," said ranking member Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

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