Saturday, September 6, 2008

Information Sharing


I’ve been tweaking things here at Losantiville over the last week. My intent from the start was to keep a Cincinnati based perspective on things related to emergency management and homeland security. In keeping with that goal, I’ve added more Cincinnati blogs to the roll. Hopefully those who read this blog will also enjoy some of the new additions. I’ve also added a site counter and bookmark to the blog. Please feel free to share Losativille with others.

Information Sharing Strategy

I was reading the DHS blog and Secretary Chetoff published his agency’s goals for information sharing. You can read the entire essay here Information Sharing

I have been involved with information sharing between agencies since the mid-80s and well, quite frankly, it is easier said than done. The first problem arises in goal number #2, “The Department must use the established governance structure to make decisions regarding information sharing issues.” Whenever a department or agency is placed in the role of decision-maker for sharing information, a bureaucratic process is created. Regardless of the intention, the process becomes filled with reviews and appeals inevitably creating an inefficient and cumbersome procedure. Requests become mired as complications arise over sharing protocols, update frequency, and content. The process becomes an unending submission-review loop that produces few results.

The next goal, “The Department must commit sufficient resources to information sharing,” spells doom for any department or agency that doesn’t have surplus resources to commit to the sharing initiative. DHS is a shell that manages other agencies such as Border Patrol, US Coast Guard, Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Secret Service. DHS itself has few resources to offer and must negotiate other agencies to support such initiatives. Agencies desiring to share or receive information from other sources will have to find the funding to purchase the necessary hardware and bandwidth. Squabbles will result whenever one agency feels they are providing the bulk of support or funding in comparison to the other partners.

The fourth goal is one of hardest to achieve in any bureaucracy, “The Department must measure progress toward information sharing goals.” Measure what and report it to whom? Agencies that feel that aren’t receiving the necessary information, or who are denied information sharing for whatever reason, will have no agency other than DHS to go to request review. The goal becomes meaningless without an independent oversight to review these metrics and hold DHS accountable to meeting these goals.

Most states have created intelligence fusions centers and are having great success in sharing amongst various state and local agencies. These fusion centers help reduce redundant efforts and improve funding of system enhancements. The state centers have a tremendous impact for local agencies. I remain skeptical though that similar gains can be achieved on the federal level. Bureaucracies tend to seek reasons to justify their existence, not find ways to eliminate themselves. Therefore sharing initiatives may been seen as some in the bureaucratic hierarchy as a threat to their agencies existence.

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