GAO: Information sharing lacks definition

The federal government’s Information Sharing Environment (ISE) has made progress in creating a framework for sharing terrorism-related data, but lacks a well-defined scope and a road map for assessing progress, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

GAO recommended that the Information Sharing Environment Program Manager should more fully define the ISE’s scope, the desired results and the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders, according to the report. The report was released today at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The environment was set up by Congress to be in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It is to facilitate the exchange of terrorism information among federal, state, and local governments and the private sector by establishing policies, procedures and standards.

Since 2005, the GAO has designated the environment as a high-risk area, which means its success will require significant transformation in government operations and also that it is vulnerable to waste, mismanagement, fraud and abuse.

The program manager for the environment has issued an implementation plan that provides an initial structure and an approach for design and deployment by June 2009, the GAO report states. The office also has created proposed common terrorism information-sharing standards.

Ambassador Thomas McNamara, the ISE program manager, said at the hearing he agreed that the performance measures need to be developed, and he also agreed with the program’s designation as high-risk.

“It may seem paradoxical but I welcome the ISE’s designation as high risk because it demands constant attention as a priority,” McNamara said.

“We are a little behind, if you will, on the metrics to measure the progress,” McNamara said. “Making progress took precedence over measuring progress.”

Although the environment’s program office was created as a temporary program for two years, McNamara said that time limitation is far too narrow because of the complexity of the issues involved.

The two-year limitation is “almost laughable,” McNamara said, but, he added, he accepted the limitations when he signed on as program manager.

“I came out of retirement to pour the foundation, not to complete the building,” McNamara said. “The office is temporary, but the functions are going to be around for a long time.”

McNamara also said he intends to leave the program management office soon, but he did not specify a date.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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