House passes law to improve sharing of threat information

From the Associated Press:

Legislation passed by the House Tuesday (H.R. 553) would require DHS to produce a declassified version of threat information for state and local first responders who don’t have the security clearance to view classified material.  The measure would also require portion marking, where certain classified parts of a document might be blacked out but the rest of the information would remain unclassified.

Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists, said the Harman bill sends an important message that classification should not be a barrier to keeping local officials informed about threats.  But he said the bill doesn’t cover the CIA or the Pentagon, the biggest sources of classified data. “This is not the systemic change that we need but it is an urgent part of the larger problem and I hope it will elevate classification reform in the administration agenda.”

The bill, which passed by a voice vote, passed the House in the last session of Congress but wasn’t taken up by the Senate.  The bill now goes to the Senate.  I’ll update this post as the bill status changes.

Overview of Napolitano’s Action Directives

In her first 10 days in office, new Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has issued 12 “action directives” focused on specific homeland security areas.  Here’s an overview of all the action directives, including their purpose and a brief look at what they may indicate for Homeland Security policy in the Obama administration.

What is an action directive?

According to the DHS press release, action directives “instruct specific offices and agencies to gather information, review existing strategies and programs, and to provide oral and written reports” by a specified date.  The dates are specified separately for each directive.

So essentially the action directives are reviews of existing programs.  Although the action directives do not direct any changes to the programs under review, the specific areas each directive specifies for review give an indication of programs that may begin seeing changes after the reviews are complete.

List of Action Directives

The list of action directives follows.  I’ve listed all the relevant dates for each directive as [Date issued / date oral presentations due / date written reports due].  I’ve linked each directive in this list to the DHS press release that includes it.

Note: Although the initial press release didn’t give both oral and written dates for the 5 action directives issued on that date, based on the press releases for the other action directives, this appears to be an error, and I’ve made the assumption that all 5 of those directives have the same oral and written response dates.  No date was specified for oral presentations for the last action directive (immigration and border security).

Brief Analysis:

Although immigration and border security was the last action directive issued, it is by far the longest and most specific directive, while at the same time allowing the shortest time between issuance of the directive and due date for the final report.  This may be a reflection of Secretary Napolitano’s experience with immigration, but in any case it indicates a likely increase in emphasis on immigration and border security compared to the previous administration.

The other theme clearly evident in many of the action directives is interoperability and integration, integration, integration.  Napolitano stated during her confirmation hearing that a primary focus under her watch would be integration of DHS agencies into a single cohesive agency, and the action directives reflect that.

DHS IG Report: DHS’ role in fusion centers

The DHS Office of Inspector General issued a report last week on “DHS’ Role in
State and Local Fusion Centers”.  The report was issued in response to a request from U.S. Representative Bennie G. Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

The report reviews successes and challenges in detail, and makes 7 recommendations.  The DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (DHS I&A) is the organization in DHS responsible for fusion centers, and the report states that I&A agreed with all 7 recommendations, and “has proposed plans and taken action that, once fully implemented, will reduce a number of the deficiencies…identified.”

Here’s a summary of the recommendations:

  1. Improve responses to Requests for Information, and identify designated points-of-contact between I&A and fusion centers for information needs.
  2. Expand training courses, including adding additional course locations (not just Washington D.C.), and exploring online training.
  3. Integrate all relevant I&A division roles and responsibilities into the fusion center program.
  4. Review and increase assignments of DHS staff to fusion centers.
  5. Develop measurable performance standards for the fusion center program, and justify continued costs.
  6. Improve interconnectivity among the multiple unclassified and classified information systems used to share and obtain information from fusion centers.
  7. Explore funding options and identify sufficient resources for the fusion center program.  This includes providing staff to the State and Local Program Office to oversee and manage the program.

Regardless of intent, whether or not any of these recommendations are implemented will ultimately come down to funding.  To this end, recommendations #4 (increase DHS staff assigned to fusion centers), #6 (improve interconnectivity among systems), and the 2nd half of #7 (providing staff to oversee and manage the program) are probably the least likely to be implemented in the near future.  But expect funds for some or all of these to be requested in the DHS FY2010 budget.

DHS IG report recommends greater HSIN responsiveness

From Homeland Security Today:

The information-sharing network of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must do a better job of meeting its customers needs, concluded a report from the department’s inspector general (IG) released December 5th.

The IG report, titled “DHS’ Efforts to Improve the Homeland Security Information Network” (HSIN), found widespread dissatisfaction with the capabilities of the data network from state and local officials searching it for information. The department is upgrading the HSIN to its next generation version, which it argues will resolve many of the concerns about the existing network.

The report recommends that DHS provide resources to improve relationships with its HSIN users and provide them with adequate opportunities to provide feedback on the network. The department also should develop scenario-based training for stakeholders, include performance metrics in any future HSIN developments, and make clear how it uses the information in HSIN.

Event: House Homeland Security Committee roundtables on privacy, civil rights, & civil liberties at DHS

  • When:  Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
  • Where: 311 Cannon House Office Building, Washington D.C.
  • Time:  9:00 am – 4:00 pm

On Wednesday, December 3rd, the Majority Staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security will host a series of roundtable discussions on the future of privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties at DHS.  The event, entitled “A Path Forward: Constitutional Protections in Homeland Security”, is sponsored by Rep. Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.  Experts from the public sector will give their views on the focus the Department should take in dealing with privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties during the new Administration.  There will be a total of six panels:

  • 9am – The Road Ahead: Protecting Civil Liberties in a Natural Disaster
  • 10am – A New Direction:  Privacy Implications in Datamining
  • 11am – The Way Forward: Privacy and Domestic Intelligence & Information Sharing
  • 1pm – The Advancing Lane: Transportation Security & Privacy and Civil Liberties
  • 2pm – The Changing Course:  Privacy, Civil Liberties, and the Border
  • 3pm – A Progressive Dimension: Cybersecurity and Privacy

Committee leaders await findings on info sharing network

From FCW:

The House Homeland Security Committee’s Democratic leadership remains concerned about the Homeland Security Department’s effort to overhaul its platform for sharing sensitive but unclassified information with state and local authorities, dubbed HSIN Next Gen (HSIN = Homeland Security Information Network).

In July, the chairman, Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and a senior member, Jane Harman (D-CA), asked DHS to suspend work on the program until requirements for the platform’s users had been defined and validated.

In two letters to DHS leadership dated Sept. 23 and Oct. 9, Thompson requested the Homeland Security Information Network Advisory Council’s findings for oversight purposes. As of Friday morning (Oct. 17), the committee had not received them.

GAO: HSIN Nextgen needs more acquisition controls

From HSToday:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is well on its way to upgrading the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) which shares threat information with state and local authorities, but the department could benefit from increased management of the purchase of the next generation system, according to a report from the GAO published Wednesday.

DHS could benefit from increasing staffing in the HSIN program office, outlining staff responsibilities, and identifying requirements and risks adequately.

A memo from the DHS undersecretary of management last year revealed DHS operates more than 100 Web-based systems, many of which simply duplicate each other’s capabilities. In consolidating these systems, DHS also plans to replace legacy portal technologies that inhibit information sharing. As such, HSIN NextGen will serve a number of communities within DHS, including emergency management, intelligence, immigration, and law enforcement.

The Office of Operations Coordination and Planning responded to the GAO report, detailing actions it has taken to meet the report’s recommendations.