DHS to modify info-sharing network

Hill wants more notification

House Homeland Security Committee lawmakers say they are upset about not being told in advance of the Homeland Security Department’s plans to modify the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN).

In a Jan. 17 letter to DHS, committee members complained that the department had not informed them of a portal consolidation project that will replace the current HSIN infrastructure.

Lawmakers asked Paul Schneider, DHS acting deputy secretary, to answer a series of questions about the network, including:

  • How much money has been spent on HSIN?

  • What changes are being made to manage the consolidated portal, which will handle sensitive but unclassified information?/

  • To what extent will the next-generation HSIN integrate with other law enforcement networks?

The Homeland Security Department’s decision to take a fresh look at its network for sharing sensitive but unclassified (SBU) information with state and local officials is part of a broader effort to improve how data is shared and ensure these networks are meeting users’ needs.

DHS officials want the Homeland Security Information Network, a $90 million project that started in 2003, to evolve into an enterprise collaboration Web portal in which DHS will merge more than 100 federal sites, including the SBU network that state and local authorities use to share information related to terrorism.

In an internal memo dated Oct. 27, Paul Schneider, then-DHS’ undersecretary for management, said that if DHS did not reconcile the decentralized Web environment that causes duplicative investments, the trust that the administration and people place in the department would be compromised and DHS’ performance would be adversely affected.

Schneider, who now is DHS acting deputy secretary, said the new environment will replace the existing SBU HSIN platform, which many state and local intelligence fusion centers and first responders use to share information with DHS.

“The efforts to develop a next generation of HSIN is not a dramatic departure from the current version of HSIN; rather this effort is intended to improve overall information sharing capabilities,” said Larry Orluskie, a DHS spokesman.

Roxann Ryan, a criminal intelligence analyst at the Iowa Intelligence Fusion Center, said DHS had been talking about periodically updating HSIN for as long as she can remember. She also said that the next generation of HSIN was encouraging because it appears it will have more secure methods through which officials can send law enforcement information.

“The easier they make it, the better it is for us,” Ryan added.

One federal official with knowledge of the project said DHS should use HSIN to meet needs not being met by other SBU portals that state and local officials use to share information with federal authorities.

John Cohen, a senior adviser to the program manager for the Information Sharing Environment, said his agency has been in contact with DHS about HSIN’s need to evolve. PM-ISE is part of the Office of the National Director for Intelligence.

Schneider’s memo states that at the end of the consolidation process, the SBU portal environment will provide a federated content-management structure and enhance information sharing and visibility.

The memo also mandates all DHS components to cease the development of any new portals unless they get approval from the agency’s chief information officer. DHS does not expect the consolidation to cost any additional money.

Another federal official with knowledge of the project said the DHS guidance to stop any further development is not unusual.

The official said HSIN has been successful in its ability to provide access to information to state and local officials, but it has fallen short on furnishing useful information. That may be a major reason why DHS is taking another look at the program.

Cohen said the PM-ISE has assessed about six SBU networks, including HSIN, to show where they do and don’t intersect. The ISE council has asked for more data on the networks by early March, he added. After the latest analysis, the ISE will develop recommendations.

About the Authors

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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