White House, Congress weigh in on homeland security, data sharing
President Bush warned Congress June 7 against turf wars over his plan to create a Homeland Security Department, a problem that information technology experts say is a real issue across government.
Meeting with Congressional leaders, Bush said the plan was essential to create a successful information sharing network in the fight against terrorism.
Government officials agreed on the need for better data sharing. At the first congressional hearing since President Bush announced June 6 that he wants to create a new Cabinet-level agency, Mark Forman, the administration's e-government director, said that government culture must change to make information sharing a reality.
Forman told members of Congress that agency culture and "resistance to change" are the biggest problems in building bridges to share information. And he said government has been tackling those issues for years.
"We need to focus on faster response and better decision-making," Forman told the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee.
Despite the new department's proposed $37.5 billion budget and 169,000-person workforce, the task of creating an umbrella agency that combines 22 federal agencies aimed at preventing future attacks against the United States will take a Herculean effort, lawmakers and administration officials said.
But it will be worth it, according to Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the subcommittee. "The proposed Department of Homeland Security will greatly assist information sharing by reorganizing the government along more rational, strategic lines that will more efficiently pursue homeland security," he said.
Davis also praised Bush's plan because it includes flexible acquisition policies to encourage innovation and the rapid development of critical technologies.
Forman said a major obstacle until now has been the funding of federal initiatives across agency boundaries.
"What is needed for homeland security as well as e-government success is the ability to fund governmentwide initiatives by appropriating across agencies," Forman said. "Just like the information stovepipes that must be overcome — funding is provided in a stovepipe manner."
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who spoke at the hearing, said it is essential to integrate data into one stream to track down potential terrorists before they can carry out an attack. "Wouldn't it have been great to punch in 'flight school' and 'Moussaoui'? " she asked.
Zacarias Moussaoui, who is accused of being the 20th hijacker, was arrested prior to Sept. 11. Although an FBI agent questioned why he had been taking flying lessons, the dots were not connected to him until after the terrorist attacks.
So far, reactions on the plan from Capitol Hill, which will hold hearings and develop a comprehensive legislative package by the end of this year, have been largely positive.
Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.), a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, welcomed Bush's proposal but questioned whether it will improve communications.
"The FBI and the CIA, who weren't communicating together enough before, now they have to communicate with a third agency? Is that the way we want to go?" he asked.
Meanwhile, the Senate passed a $31.5 billion anti-terrorism package for fiscal 2002 early June 7. The White House has threatened to veto it because it is too expensive. The House version of the bill, about $27 billion, contains extra money for IT projects. The Senate added money requested by lawmakers for pet projects.
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