Friday, March 21, 2008

Harman Criticizes DHS Again on State-Local Information Sharing

Rep. Jane Harman, chairwoman of the Homeland Security Committee’s intelligence subcommittee, is criticizing DHS again, as she did a few weeks ago at a congressional hearing (my post here). The issue is sharing information among federal, state and local officials:

The Homeland Security Department is at risk for losing support for funding because it is not doing a good enough job of sharing information with state, local and federal homeland security officials, the chairwoman of the House subcommittee that oversees information sharing and intelligence gathering said March 18.

Speaking at the National Fusion Center Conference in San Francisco this week, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), said DHS’ Intelligence and Analysis Office (OIA) needs to improve its relationships with and understanding of the needs of state and local authorities to make its fusion center initiative successful.
DHS is making some gradual progress but not quickly enough for Harman, or with a clear enough commitment:
[DHS] has more than 20 representatives at fusion centers and has committed to having 35 employees deployed to them by the end of the fiscal year. FBI officials already work in almost all centers.
Thanks to its stronger commitment, the FBI has developed a pretty good relationship with fusion centers, because co-location of local, state, and federal officials is critical to developing an information-sharing network based on trust, as this CRS report suggested last summer (my post here).

Here's the big red flag, though:
Harman added that the president’s 2009 budget request does not include money specifically to sustain the centers despite calls for it by the administration in its National Strategy for Information Sharing, which was released last year. The strategy placed fusion centers as the cornerstone for information sharing among the state, local and federal governments.
State officials voiced the concern that fusion centers would essentially become an unfunded federal mandate in a GAO report last December (my post here). Seen in this light, is it any wonder that state and local officials are feeling uncertain about their level of commitment and involvement in the fusion center process?

Harman is getting impatient:
“Once we get past the agendas, games and turf wars involving fusion centers and the ITACG, once we start working on solutions, we’ll soon look back on ourselves and ask ourselves, ‘What took so long?’ ” she said in her prepared remarks.
I'm overgeneralizing and speculating here, but some of the more successful fusion centers I'm aware of (e.g., NYC, LA) have been established purely on the basis of local need, when communities have decided that they cannot adequately perform their homeland security mission without them. Perhaps the imposition of a fusion center - either by mandate or by suggestion - begins to raise questions about whose turf is whose, and that's where the squabbling comes in.

No comments: