DHS official defends HSIN Next Gen

Despite calls from two senior House Democrats for the Homeland Security Department to stop work at least for a time on a new version of DHS’ national collaborative platform for sharing sensitive but unclassified information. an official who oversees the program’s development said its deployment should continue.

Stopping work now on the Homeland Security Information Network-Next Generation (HSIN Next Gen) project would hamper information sharing, said Harry McDavid, chief information officer for DHS’ Office of Operations Coordination which is developing the updated platform. McDavid said July 30 he was confident in the current plan for rolling out the new version of Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) in phases over the next 12 to 18 months.

“Not continuing with [HSIN Next Gen] puts the successes that we’ve achieved at risk,” he said.

McDavid added that he isn’t the person who makes a decision whether to halt the program and that DHS was working to answer a series of questions and concerns that two senior House Democrats submitted to the department in a letter dated July 23.

Government auditors, DHS’ inspector general and lawmakers have criticized the first version of HSIN for not fully meeting its users’ needs. DHS hired General Dynamics for $62 million in May to work on the HSIN Next Gen project that DHS says will be easier to use and more secure.

McDavid said that the HSIN program office has developed a strategy for HSIN Next Gen that uses lessons learned, recognizes the resource limitations of the program and does not incur cost, schedule, performance or security risks.

McDavid made the comments at the Homeland Defense Journal’s Fusion Centers and Information Sharing Conference in Washington, where he discussed HSIN's use in fusion centers. State and local authorities at intelligence fusion centers around the country use HSIN to share information.

The 2008 National Response Framework (NRF), which delegates different emergency response tasks to federal, state and local governments as well as the private sector when re, also identified HSIN as “the primary reporting method for information flow.”

In a letter dated July 23, Reps. Bennie Thompson, (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who heads one of that panel's subcommittees, requested that DHS cease work on developing HSIN Next Gen until the requirements of state and local authorities as well as other users have for the system are developed.

“The [Government Accountability Office] reports, hearings and letters that HSIN has engendered over the last several years center on one thing: [DHS’] continuous and apparently continuing to identify, provide for, and adjust to end user requirements,” the letter reads.

McDavid said DHS is working to address the lawmakers’ anxiety about requirements but said there is some misunderstanding about what requirements have already been identified. He said that 54 percent of HSIN Next Gen’s requirements are new — about a 120 percent increase from the first version.

He said the new platform is being developed with input from end users and will be rolled out to users who work in the critical infrastructure sectors in mid-August. He explained the plan is to release the program to some of the more complex user groups first. There are also plans to deploy the new version to geographic regions — such as the National Capital Region -– to test how it is used across sectors as well.

“The Next Gen is really focused initially on the security of that platform so we can move forward to regain trust,” he said. “The real challenge for my mind isn’t the technology; it’s the data and the mission needs — that relationship, ” he said.

McDavid said DHS is in the process of answering questions that incl de:

  • How DHS plans to incorporate the needs of users of law enforcement information sharing databases.

  • How DHS’ Office of Operations Coordination has worked with state and local users to define requirements for HSIN Next Gen.

  • When DHS plans to staff the HISN Next Gen program office.

Alice Lipowicz contributed to this report .

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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