Watchdog dings DHS data efforts

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A newly released study by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General said the agency must tighten up the way it manages data strategy across its operations, but agency officials said they're on it.

"DHS has a long way to go toward implementing its data strategy. As of April 2017, DHS had begun implementing only four of 23 strategic objectives of its Enterprise Data Strategy," said the report, which was released Aug. 17.

The IG audited the DHS implementation of data policy on a number of fronts, from a 2013 governmentwide open data directive to a 2016 DHS enterprise data strategy that covers improving agency data, requires sharing across components, focuses on interoperability and the security of data platforms and calls for the building of a skilled data workforce.

As of April 2017, the report said, DHS had started implementing only four of 19 strategic objectives under its data strategy. It hadn’t set up timelines, assigned responsibilities or outcomes for the remaining 19 objectives. The agency said it put off finalizing plans for the strategic objectives until late fiscal 2017 to avoid duplicative efforts on related information sharing efforts. However, it said it had begun work on four areas -- prescribing a data management process, using standardized master reference data, inventorying datasets and data systems and identifying authoritative data sources.

The DHS CIO said the agency was working on several fronts with component agencies to better identify and distribute tools and training to facilitate enterprise wide data analysis and management.

For instance, the CIO team told the IG that its Business Intelligence as a Service team is working to identify common tools, like Oracle licensing using Enterprise Licensing Agreements to streamline procurements. The ELAs, it told the IG, provide Oracle training for agency employees at no cost.

Additionally, the agency said its BIaaS team is working with the CIO's Information Technology Services Office Acquisition Support Division to set up ELAs for Tableau and Informatica software. It said DHS headquarters will also work with component CIO offices to get special training services if they aren’t immediately included by the software vendor.

The agency also told the IG it has also contracted with a data governance company that will provide data governance tools by the end of December.

The IG did note a bright spot in cross-agency coordination. The report said DHS Data Framework, a project designed to provide the agency and external users with near real-time access to person-centric travel and immigration data for analytical purposes in classified and unclassified environments, is moving ahead.

The framework, said the report, has taken in data from nine systems owned by Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, and Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Based on user feedback, DHS said it focused on a data quality initiative to ensure the data can be used to support key operational decisions. DHS told the IG that it expects to ingest a total of 20 datasets into the Data Framework by the end of this fiscal year.

As of July 2017, DHS said the framework interface was in use by CBP and at DHS’ Intelligence & Analysis staff, as well as by some Transportation Security Administration users.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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