Democrats ask DHS to halt work on network

Two senior House Democrats have called on the Homeland Security Department to immediately suspend work on its second attempt to build a secure national information-sharing network to send unclassified terrorism alerts and other messages to state and local agencies and private organizations.
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In May, the department hired General Dynamics to develop the $62 million Homeland Security Information Network-Next Generation (HSIN NextGen), which is supposed to incorporate lessons learned from an earlier network that failed to attract many users.

However, after receiving a briefing on the new project, Reps. Bennie Thompson, (D-Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who heads one of that panel's subcommittees, sent a letter July 23 to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff asking that the program be halted so some problems can be addressed.

Thompson and Harman said they were responding to a review by the Government Accountability Office that states that DHS had rushed the development of requirements for the next-generation network requirements without adequately consulting with state, local and tribal users.

“We accordingly request that the department cease all work on the development and implementation of the HSIN Next Generation until requirements have been defined and validated for all of the department’s state, local and tribal law enforcement, and other partners,” the House members wrote.

They also asked the department to provide in 60 days documentation on money spent on the program to date and on how DHS intends to fulfill the requirements of the end users, among other details.

In response, DHS defended its acquisition strategy for HSIN NextGen.

"We appreciate their interest in the matter, and we'll respond to their questions promptly,” said Russ Knocke, DHS spokesman.

“Based on previous conversations with Congress and the GAO, we have already developed an acquisition strategy that addresses their concerns as well as satisfies their questions about outreach to state, local and private sector partners,” Knocke said.

Knocke also defended the department’s approach as a balancing act of speed and appropriate consultation.

“They're basically saying, ‘Do it cheap and do it fast, but make sure you talk to everyone and keep them all happy about it.’ Doing something fast, means you have to be willing to make decisions. Doing something by committee, means that you'll face some unavoidable delays,” Knocke said.

The goal, Thompson and Harman wrote, is to avoid the problems that have plagued the department’s initial attempt at secure information-sharing known as the first HSIN.

The department halted new work on HSIN in September 2007, but has continued to operate and maintain the system while the next-generation version is being acquired.

HSIN NextGen will be a secure platform for information management, collaboration capabilities and search services with enhanced capabilities. DHS, when it debuted the program, said the upgraded network will help users meet their collaboration and information-sharing needs.

DHS plans to consolidate the more than 100 aging Web portals on the legacy HSIN into the new enterprise collaboration Web portal.

General Dynamics’ initial contract is worth $18 million and up to $62 million over five years, DHS said in a statement.

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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