GAO: DHS finally acts to put HSIN on track

Homeland Security Information Network needs to be better coordinated with key state and local initiatives

After several years, the Homeland Security Department has finally started applying program management and coordination planning for its Web-based system for sharing data with state and local emergency responders, the Government Accountability Office said.

DHS must still integrate its Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) incident management and private-sector categories with the existing Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) program and other state and local law enforcement systems. To do so, it needs to define users’ needs, provide the appropriate content and apply program management, said David Powner, director of GAO’s information technology management issues.

Because these efforts are so new, DHS has not defined milestones. Powner wrote a recent report on how the department needs to better coordinate federal networks that support homeland security with major state and local information-sharing initiatives.

“HSIN has been poorly managed and poorly coordinated,” Powner told the House Homeland Security Committee’s Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee. “It must improve its requirements scope, content and implementation strategy.”

In its haste to deploy HSIN to combat terrorism, the department communicated poorly with state and local organizations to strategize and identify what was already available through RISS, work through technical issues, and determine differences in what constituted terrorism information, he said. RISS was implemented for law enforcement to fight crime long before terrorism moved to the forefront.

RISS has been an effective program that has enhanced law enforcement officials’ ability to identify, target and remove criminal activities and share intelligence across state and international borders, said Donald Kennedy, executive director of the New England State Police Information Network, an RISS center.

As a result, effective information sharing likely did not occur because HSIN did not get a lot of use and may have duplicated other state and local capabilities aimed at emergency management agencies, Powner said.

For example, RISS has worked with HSIN and the Justice Department on counterterrorism interoperability, but during an upgrade, HSIN disrupted its automated feeds to RISS, resulting in a daily search effort by RISS technical staff to access documents posted on HSIN sites, Kennedy said.

“Rather than developing new systems, existing networks and systems [should] be modified and augmented based on continuing information needs,” he said.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said only 6 percent of HSIN law enforcement users and 2 percent of counterterrorism and emergency management users log on to the system, citing a recent DHS inspector general report.

Lawmakers under Democratic leadership want to make sure HSIN meets its objectives and does not waste resources.

DHS has spent $71 million on HSIN, or $20 million a year, said Wayne Parent, deputy director of DHS’ Office of Operations Coordination.

“What we have is a mess and what we need is an effective fix,” said Jane Harmon (D-Calif.), the subcommittee’s chairwoman. “Absence of consultation in the front end leaves a mess at the back end.”

DHS recently hired a program manager and established an advisory committee to better meet user needs and coordinate with existing state resources, he said.


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