Advisory panel supports DHS on information sharing

An advisory panel of outside experts today supported the Homeland Security Department's work on a computer-based platform for sharing sensitive but unclassified information with its partners. Earlier, the panel expressed concerns about DHS' methods.

During a conference call, members of a Homeland Security Information Advisory Committee (HSINAC) agreed to a statement of support for DHS’ efforts to upgrade the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN). The HSIN Next Generation effort that will upgrade the original HSIN platform has been criticized by Government Accountability Office and senior Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee.

In addition, the HSINAC recently gave DHS a set of recommendations for HSIN Next Gen that appeared to be highly critical of DHS’ efforts. However, in the call today, HSINAC members unanimously agreed to a statement they said was meant to clarify the committee’s position and expressed support for DHS’ efforts.

In May, DHS awarded a contract worth as much as $62 million to General Dynamics to work on HSIN Next Gen. The first phase of the effort was completed Aug. 25. DHS estimates it has spent a total of $91 million on the original HSIN platform through fiscal 2008.

In a memo to DHS leadership, dated Sept. 17, the HSINAC criticized DHS’ efforts to engage the eventual users of the HSIN Next Gen platform as “immature and under-resourced” and that it lacked a “fully articulated business strategy with prudent management controls” and there is an "inadequate definition" of HSIN Next Gen's role with respect to other information-sharing systems.

In the letter, the group also recommended that “no further funds should be expended for HSIN Next Generation except for the development and vetting of a cohesive business plan and implementation of a sound requirements generation and vetting process,” until the deficiencies are corrected.

In today’s call, the advisory panel agreed to a statement that said:

“While the Homeland Security Information Network Advisory Committee has strongly recommended DHS modify its approach to developing the next generation of HSIN to include greater input from the end-users and greater integration from other federal information sharing systems, HSINAC is equally firm in its commitment and support of DHS’ effort to develop an enhanced national homeland security information network.”

The statement also said HSINAC also “strongly supports technical improvements that enhance reliability, security and redundancy as well as initiatives that partner with all levels of government, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to understand and incorporate information sharing requirements into future upgrades and redesigns.”

During the call, Roger Rufe, director of DHS’ Operations Directorate, said DHS was incorporating HSINAC's recommendations.

“I’m very confident we are moving in the right direction,” he said.

The committee has also been reviewing a functional requirements document for HSIN Next Gen. During the call, a DHS representative said that HSIN Next Gen would be interoperable with the Justice Department's information-sharing systems and other federal data-sharing systems. 

The DHS representative also said HSIN Next Gen’s functional requirements will require the platform to comply with rules for federally-funded criminal intelligence data systems and have single sign-on capability and authentication methodology, other concerns that had been raised.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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