States must designate fusion center to work with feds

The Homeland Security and Justice departments want state governors and other officials to name a single fusion center from every state to work directly with the federal government.

In a Nov. 28 letter, obtained by Federal Computer Week, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Michael Mukasey ask governors to “designate a single fusion center to serve as the statewide or regional hub to interface with the federal government and through which to coordinate the gathering, processing, analysis and dissemination of terrorism, law enforcement and homeland security information in an all-crimes approach.”

The letter is part of the implementation of the second guideline in a Dec. 16, 2005, White House memo to develop a common information-sharing framework. It also helps apply the National Strategy for Information Sharing requirement for improved collaboration on sharing terrorism information.

Fusion centers have struggled to provide useful data because they lack connectivity to law enforcement databases and have a poor record of compliance with federally backed, technical data-sharing standards, according to a Congressional Research Service report issued in July.

State and local governments have established more than 40 fusion centers, but there is confusion about who is in charge of processing and distributing information and which one has the primary mission of sharing terrorism-related information, experts said at a recent hearing.

At the hearing, lawmakers called for a better strategy for collaboration between the fusion centers and the federal government.

Chertoff and Mukasey’s letter seeks to accomplish some of those aims. It states that several states have multiple organizations that can serve as a primary contact, and that is why DHS and Justice are asking governors to designate a single center.

“Functional capabilities for the designated hub should include issuing alerts and warnings, critical infrastructure protection planning, threat analysis, and conducting training and exercises — all in accordance with the protection of citizens’ privacy and civil liberties,” the letter states.

Chertoff and Mukasey want governors to consider a strategy that is consistent with federal efforts to constitute the Information Sharing Environment, including the Urban Area Security Initiative’s grant program guidance, and ensure that federal information is shared with authorized state officials in a timely manner.

If a state does not have a central hub yet, DHS and Justice would like the state to designate a temporary preferred point of entry for all threat-related information.

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