Senators urge adoption of guidelines for sharing sensitive info

Lieberman/Collins letter

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The Bush administration should quickly adopt guidelines for handling sensitive but unclassified (SBU) data to boost information sharing among government agencies, leading members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee say.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the committee, and ranking member Sen. Susan Collins sent a letter May 1 to Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Homeland Security Department, and other department heads in which they point out that confusion about the guidelines could result in major intelligence gaps.

A March 2006 Government Accountability Office report found there were 56 different SBU designations in use at federal agencies. The program manager for the Information Sharing Environment (ISE), created in 2004 to improve the sharing of terrorist-related information, has estimated there are at least 107, however.

This has led to confusion over the rules for sharing information and to a tendency on the part of officials to “err on the side of not sharing,” the senators said.

“Our first responders bear the brunt of this ineffective information sharing,” they wrote. “When they are not provided with adequate intelligence, they are unable to properly train or equip their personnel to respond to emerging threats.”

In its report, GAO found that more than half of the 26 agencies it reviewed reported problems with sharing information, and said that most agencies lack controls on the kinds, numbers and training of employees who can make SBU designations.

The report came just after John Russack, then-information sharing environment program manager in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is responsible for implementing ISE, resigned after telling Congress several months earlier he lacked the money and staff to fulfill his responsibilities.

In their letter, Lieberman and Collins asked Chertoff, the director for national intelligence, the attorney general, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the assistants to the president for national security affairs and for homeland security and counterterrorism to report back the status of the recommendations for consolidating SBU designations.

Those were due during the second half of 2006.

Once those recommendations are made, the senators also want to know the plans for implementing them and enforcing them governmentwide.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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