The FBI is changing its top-heavy management structure and trying to collaborate more with state and local authorities to prevent another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, a bureau director told Government Executive on Friday.
Although much attention has been focused on how the Homeland Security Department is managed and on its antiterror mission, the FBI is equally responsible for homeland security and is changing to meet the demands, said Louis Quijas, assistant director of the bureau's Office of Law Enforcement.
Quijas said one of the key challenges facing the bureau is understanding that state and local law enforcement agencies are ready and prepared to help stop terrorism. He said the FBI is working to improve how it relates to state and local authorities, who are the first to respond to emergencies and work on a daily basis to prevent tragedies from occurring.
"I think the key is learning from state and local responders," he said. "The challenge is recognizing what state and local authorities have done for years in the area of prevention, and then integrating that into what we're doing in the FBI."
Quijas said the FBI has done an excellent job in the past at withholding information, but the challenge today is disseminating information to state and local authorities, and first responders especially.
"We are not only fighting a war on terrorism, we're also fighting a war on culture," he said.
Quijas, who was the police chief of High Point, N.C., before joining the FBI, said his office was specifically set up to make sure state and local authorities have a voice within the FBI and DHS. His office serves as a liaison between the bureau and DHS, bringing people with different skills and resources to the same table.
Quijas also spoke on a homeland security panel Friday as part of the first annual conference exploring interoperability issues between agencies, held in Arlington, Va. this week.
During his presentation, Quijas outlined several FBI initiatives under way to address homeland security needs and work more closely with state and local officials. For example, the bureau recently launched a program in St. Louis, Mo., called the Gateway Project, which for the first time puts FBI files into a database that can be accessed by state and local authorities.
Quijas said the Gateway Project is being used as a prototype to develop a national system called the Multiple Agency Information Sharing Initiative, which will provide a national database of case files.
The FBI is also establishing a 24-hour operations center that local authorities can call for information on a person. For example, if a police officer in Los Angeles pulled somebody over for a traffic violation, the officer can call the center from the field and find out if that person is involved in any other cases.
However, Quijas acknowledged the FBI is grappling with balancing civil rights while trying to stop terrorism. "We have this thing called the Constitution that we got to protect but we also need to protect our country from another terrorist attack," he said.