DHS gets average grade on public transit info sharing

Fifty-two percent of public transit agencies are "somewhat satisfied"

The Homeland Security Department is doing fairly well at sharing security updates with public transit agencies — but needs to reduce redundancies, close gaps and add transit agencies to the networks, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO surveyed 80 rail, bus and ferry transit agencies to check their overall satisfaction with the two information-sharing mechanisms designated as primary -- DHS’ Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) transit portal and the Public Transit Information Sharing and Analysis Center, along with 10 other sharing mechanisms.

Overall, 53 percent of those who responded were “somewhat satisfied” with the security information they received from all the mechanisms while 22 percent were “very satisfied,” GAO said in a report issued Sept. 22.

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Large transit agencies were more pleased; 46 percent of them were “very satisfied,” while 16 percent of mid-sized agencies were very satisfied.

Rail operators generally rated the information-sharing more highly: 33 percent of rail operators were “very satisfied” compared with 13 percent of the non-rail operators.

Public transit agencies, in explaining their responses, noted potential redundancies in the information received from multiple sources and recommended streamlining the information flow.

They also reported that HSIN was their least favorite mechanism by which to receive security information, citing concerns about lack of user friendliness, difficulties in access and questionable information value, the GAO report states. Department officials said they have been dealing with those problems in the HSIN Next Generation project.

DHS' Transportation Security Administration and industry formed a public transit working group in 2009 to develop recommendations to improve security information sharing.

GAO made recommendations to improve the operations of the public transit working group and the HSIN:

  • Establish time frames for the working group to complete its recommendations.
  • Assess opportunities to streamline existing information-sharing mechanisms.
  • Conduct outreach to increase awareness of the public transit analysis center and HSIN.
  • Take steps to improve accessibility of HSIN and the value of its information.

DHS officials agreed with the recommendations.

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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