Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, announced the release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report he requested on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its information sharing efforts.
The report, entitled "Information Sharing: DHS Has Demonstrated Leadership and Progress, but Additional Actions Could Help Sustain and Strengthen Efforts" (GAO-12-809) found that DHS has made significant progress but can improve in certain critical areas.
The Department should receive high marks for its creation of an information sharing governance board which manages and oversees information sharing. This board has improved collaboration with DHS components and has set initiatives and priorities. Also among its improvements are DHS' efforts to catalog more than 800 data assets across the department and identify the basic information available in each asset. The cataloging and identification of these assets, called the Information Sharing Environment Coordination Activity (ISECA) will help DHS determine when it needs to share these data assets. DHS has determined that 80 of the data assets contain information with potential value in counterterrorism efforts. Of those 80, DHS identified the top 20 most valuable data assets and included them in an initiative to organize these data assets into searchable indices to facilitate fast information retrieval.
However, GAO also found that DHS needs to improve certain basic administrative practices associated with its information sharing efforts. For instance, DHS has not documented its process for identifying information-sharing gaps in each of its mission areas or the list of gaps it identified. Documenting this process and its results could help DHS replicate and sustain this process. Additionally, DHS did not analyze the root causes of information-sharing gaps to ensure that its key initiatives target the correct problems. While DHS is tracking the progress of key information-sharing initiatives, the department generally does not track when the initiatives will be completed which would help it in deciding whether to make course corrections if completion dates are delayed. Each of these basic administrative steps could help DHS avoid waste, duplication or increased costs in the future. Similarly, many top information sharing priorities currently face funding shortfalls which could hamper progress.
Congressman Thompson released the following statement on the report:
"This report shows that DHS Intelligence and Analysis has come a long way since the Department was created in 2003. I am hopeful that DHS will reach its 2015 goal for effective information sharing -- to ensure that the right information gets to the right people at the right time. Every DHS component plays an important role towards this goal. It is imperative that we fund these efforts to ensure that the kind of intelligence errors and stovepiped information, which permitted the tragic circumstances of September 11, 2001, do not happen again."