GAO finds Homeland Security lacks data-sharing plan

The Homeland Security Department lacks a workable information-sharing plan, according to a report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office.

While the agency has taken steps to improve its sharing capability, "challenges remain," the report said. The department needs input from information sharing and analysis centers (ISACs), sector coordinators and sector-specific agencies to ensure the those challenges are addressed, according to GAO.

Homeland Security has not developed a plan that describes exactly how it will execute its information-sharing responsibilities and relationships, the report said. Anna Dixon, the agency's GAO liaison, said in a June letter that the department "has informed Congress of our plans to develop a timeline this summer for a 'roadmap' that documents the current information-sharing relationships." GAO encourages that move as a way to clarify the roles and responsibilities of all those involved and clearly articulate actions to address any remaining challenges, the report said.

Internally, however, Homeland Security lacks the policies and procedures needed to ensure appropriate information sharing, GAO said. This "could affect its overall ability to perform analysis and disseminate critical information about incidents, vulnerabilities, or threats."

For example, the infrastructure coordination division of the department's information analysis and infrastructure protection division handles ISAC information sharing. However, ISACs could talk with various departments on certain issues. GAO said the national cyber-security division or Homeland Security operations center could handle cyber issues, for example.

The department said it has no intention of developing one point of contact for ISACs within the department but will craft policies and procedures. It did not specify a timeline.

In addition to issues within Homeland Security, the ISACs identified several issues requiring further federal action. Government agencies and ISACs need to build trusted relationships in order to share information, but that "may be difficult because sector-specific agencies may also have a regulatory role," the report said.

In addition, those ISACs already receiving information said they need "specific, timely and actionable" data. This could prove difficult when many government and private-sector entities are not aware of their own roles. In particular, officials for several ISACs want a better definition of the department's role with respect to them.

GAO also urged government officials not to overlook private-sector analytical efforts and to integrate them into the federal processes for a more complete understanding. ISACs also stressed the need for continued funds to facilitate information sharing.

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