Agencies should use existing systems to share information

PHILADELPHIA - As federal, state and local agencies work to fuse their information systems to defend the nation against terrorist threats, they should look for existing solutions before attempting to "reinvent the wheel," several government technology experts said Monday.

"We don't want to invest dollars if we already have something that we can build upon," Steven Cooper, the White House Office of Homeland Security's chief information officer, told a crowd of more than 900 during a homeland security conference sponsored by the Government Emerging Technologies Alliance.

Cooper, whose keynote address began the three-day conference, said the tendency to duplicate existing information-sharing efforts is a "major risk" facing hundreds of agencies at all levels of government, as they race to connect the dots. "It doesn't make sense," Cooper said. "It's not good business at any level."

Roseanne Hynes, a senior executive with the Defense Department's Homeland Security Task Force, said government officials should resist the urge to adopt new technologies without considering security-related investments that the Pentagon and other agencies have made.

"We've invested in all this stuff," Hynes said. "Let's find ways to use it and network it, instead of going out and finding new solutions."

Hynes said many innovative technologies in Defense labs could be used to help civilian agencies-such as the Transportation and Justice departments, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency-coordinate their homeland security efforts.

"The Defense Department has been looking for ways to teach them to fish in the [information technology] arena," Hynes said. "We're letting them know what technologies are available, but we're not pushing any specific solutions onto them."

Building on existing systems also proved to be a popular theme among the roughly 100 private-sector exhibitors at the conference. Many high-tech firms touted products that would enable agencies to share information without replacing antiquated or seemingly incompatible systems.

"We have developed the ability for all agencies ... to share data, regardless of their technology platforms," said Al Kassam, president and CEO of Toronto-based Briyante Software.

"People don't have to rip everything out and start over," Suzan DelBene, president and CEO of Nimble Technology, said during a demonstration of an "integration suite" that uses extensible markup language (XML) to enable real-time information sharing among disparate systems and across security firewalls. "This will make what they already have better."

The ability to share data across all levels of government, in real time, is crucial to emergency-response efforts, according to Jose Cordero, a former New York City police inspector who helped coordinate ground operations after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

"We must develop systems to provide 'first responders' with real-time information for their response to a critical incident," Cordero said. "The reality is, the first hour [after a terrorist attack] is when you ... need the most assistance, and quite honestly, it isn't here yet."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec