Congress

House passes bill to streamline DHS info sharing

Will Hurd 

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) sponsored a bill to unify DHS data.

A House bill passed Sept. 12 on a voice vote looks to enhance the Department of Homeland Security's intelligence sharing abilities, in part via an IT refresh.

The Department of Homeland Security Data Framework Act, first introduced in May, puts statutory backing behind an ongoing DHS effort to consolidate existing databases and systems across all the agency's components. Doing so will give authorized personnel the access and ability to quickly share and analyze intelligence pertaining to national security, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), who sponsored the bill, said its passage facilitates information sharing "without compromising our nation's secrets."

DHS set out to develop a big data solution in 2013. The DHS Data Framework was designed as "a systematic repeatable process for providing controlled access to DHS data across the department," according to a 2017 DHS privacy update. That update acknowledged that interoperability issues between component's IT systems made certain desired features – such as the communication of deletion requests across systems – unattainable without improvements to legacy systems.

Hurd called attention to this issue, complaining that the current system is a series of “stovepipes” as each of the 22 component agencies under DHS has its own network, which are often incompatible with one another because of respective legal mandates and restrictions around information-sharing. The result is nearly two dozen digital silos that can’t rapidly share intelligence.

Under the bill, DHS will have just two years to integrate those legacy systems. The bill also specifies separate domains for classified and unclassified information.

“Sixteen years after the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda terrorists on Homeland, most Americans would be dismayed that information-sharing stovepipes still exist,” Hurd, a former CIA operative, said.

Not all information collected by DHS is required to be accessible via the framework. According to the bill, information that could reveal the identities of sources or undermine methods or compromise ongoing investigations does not have to be included. Additionally, only personnel with the appropriate clearance, training, and duty tasks would be permitted to access the shared system.

The bill was part of a raft of homeland security measures passed by the House on Sept. 12 under suspension of the rules.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at lwilliams@fcw.com, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.


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