Homeland strategy sets IT agenda

The National Strategy for Homeland Security shows how heavily the Bush administration is counting on technology

The National Strategy for Homeland Security released last week shows how heavily the Bush administration is counting on technology to improve the nation's ability to collect, analyze and disseminate information.

The strategy identifies six critical areas — such as improving intelligence, protecting critical infrastructure and defending against catastrophic threats — and lists the major initiatives essential to each one.

Technology permeates the list — with initiatives as varied as creating a secure videoconferencing capability for communications between first responders and federal officials and creating "smart borders" using databases and biometrics.

Most programs listed — such as developing a secure data-sharing system for federal, state and local law enforcement and biometrics for border control — are already under way.

It is not surprising that the homeland security strategy focuses so much on technology, said Phil Anderson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

"Technology in large part is going to help us solve this problem," he said. "Everywhere you look, there are enormous advantages that can be gained through the use of technology."

Some of the technology essential to the strategy will require more research and development, particularly in the area of sensors and surveillance, but many of the requirements can be met with existing technology. "Most of the stuff is already on the shelf," Anderson said.

Connecting the Dots

The strategy follows close on the heels of the administration's plan for creating a Homeland Security Department, drawing together nearly two dozen agencies involved with national security. The national strategy takes the first close look at the information that is necessary to support the functions performed by those organizations.

"There's less focus here on moving boxes, and more on integrating information," said Don Kettl, executive director of the Century Foundation's Working Group on Federalism Challenges in Homeland Security. "There's a focus on connecting the dots through connecting the information."

Beyond the initiatives in each mission area, information sharing and systems form one of the four foundations of the national strategy. The strategy outlines five major initiatives in which technology will support homeland security:

* Integrate information sharing across the federal government.

* Integrate information sharing across state and local governments, private industry and citizens.

* Adopt common metadata standards for keeping track of data stored in databases across government.

* Improve public safety emergency communications.

* Ensure reliable public health information.

Information sharing is important to crossing boundaries that are in place at the federal, state and local levels, said Steve Cooper, senior director of information integration and chief information officer at the Office of Homeland Security.

The IT section of the strategy essentially provides "an overall charter or business strategy" for making that happen, he said.

One aspect of the IT plan that is likely to cause a lot of "interesting" discussion is the concept of databases of record, Cooper said. The idea is to identify or develop databases across government to serve as the official resources in certain topic areas, so that someone looking for particular information knows where to turn.

The strategy also outlines plans to develop metadata standards for "communities of practice" that cut across agency boundaries, such as first responders and law enforcement. These standards, likely based on Extensible Markup Language, will help users organize and search the information in agencies' databases.

The Office of Homeland Security has already formed several working groups to look at the legal and policy issues that might be involved, Cooper said. One hurdle is accommodating the information needs of particular agencies.

For example, much of the information that the FBI gathers is not intelligence, but evidence, and is closely held for use in prosecuting cases. Would, or should, the FBI begin to share such information?

Another hurdle, though, is the requirements to balance homeland security requirements with privacy and civil liberties, observers say.

"If the data is all from criminal histories or on foreign nationals from suspect countries, it may not be a problem," said Jim Harper, a lawyer who operates the privacy advocacy Web site Privacilla.org. "But if it's a big database accessible to lots and lots of people," and it contains information about people not suspected of being terrorists, that could be a problem, he said.

But both civil liberties and security advocates will have to be patient as the technology and policy come together and the information from across all levels of government and industry is consolidated or linked, Cooper said.

"Part of getting the balance right will be a bit of a pendulum, and I don't think that we're going to be able to nail it perfectly right out of the box," he said.

Building Blueprints

The federal government has taken steps to enable information sharing by developing an enterprise architecture that shows how different systems supporting homeland security will work together.

This initiative will build on the federal enterprise architecture already created by the Office of Management and Budget, although it must also include national security and intelligence agencies, Cooper said.

Federal officials are also working with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) to get input on the architecture from the first-responder community.

Several NASCIO members had a conference call with officials from the Office of Homeland Security earlier this month to discuss different approaches to working together on this issue, and the two groups plan to meet face-to-face in mid-August, according to Elizabeth Miller, executive director for NASCIO.

Through its e-government strategy and the annual budget process, OMB also is pushing agencies to collaborate on technology initiatives. The emphasis on developing joint business cases will be enforced for homeland security investments as well, said Mark Forman, associate director for IT and e-government at OMB.

OMB has approved three homeland security-related pilot projects, which will last three to six months, to prove the concept of information sharing and joint investments, Cooper said. They are:

* Virtually consolidating or linking the many terrorist watch lists in existence at multiple agencies.

* Creating a homeland security portal for users at all levels of government to access and link to key subject areas, such as critical infrastructure protection.

* Developing a 10-state system to share and analyze sensitive information related to law enforcement among federal, state and local agencies.

Still Sketchy Picture

Those ideas are why the IT aspect of the national strategy is the most detailed — and therefore complex — part of the strategy, Kettl said. But every part of the national strategy still needs many more details before it can be considered complete, experts say.

"A strategy should lead to a plan or plans" for executing the strategy, said CSIS' Anderson.

"What we have here is the commander's intent," he said. What is still needed is "a detailed plan that states how it is going to be accomplished."

It will probably be left to the proposed Homeland Security Department to develop that plan, Anderson said. "What's missing is a pretty good articulation of the threat," Anderson said of the president's strategy. "There may be one that's classified," but a threat assessment is essential for developing the "operations plan" needed to execute the strategy, he said.

Judi Hasson, William Matthews and Dibya Sarkar contributed to this report.

NEXT STORY: OMB puts hold on homeland IT

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.