When the Department of Homeland Security hired Chief Information Officer Richard Spires three years ago, he became the seventh CIO in eight years tasked with bringing rationality to DHS‘s unwieldy IT fiefdoms – and delivering on a mandate for sharing information across the department.
Spires, a former IRS deputy commissioner in charge of operations, quickly set his sights beyond technology matters, persuading the department’s top officials that to succeed, it would take a functioning governance board and the commitment of top leadership to support that governance if DHS was to achieve those goals.
That effort, followed by a systematic portfolio review of every major IT program across the DHS, is clearly paying off, according to a Congressional report from the Government Accountability Office. The report, issued Sept. 18, generally praised the Department of Homeland Security for making progress in achieving its information-sharing mission. But it also cautioned DHS that further steps should be taken to continue that progress and improve its efforts.
The GAO auditors reviewed information obtained from customers of DHS’s information sharing efforts, including 10 of 77 fusion centers, where states and major urban areas collaborate with federal agencies to improve information sharing; 1 of 7 DHS operational components who participate in the DHS Intelligence Enterprise, ICE; and 2 of DHS’s 16 intelligence community customers, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI
) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Investigators concluded DHS’s governance board is proving effective in enhancing collaboration among DHS components. The board has also developed and documented a process to prioritize some of the initiatives for additional oversight and support.
However, GAO said DHS needs to do more to sustain its progress: specifically updating its processes for identifying information-sharing gaps and the results; and analyzing root causes of those gaps. It also said DHS lacks an institutional record that would help it replicate and sustain
those information-sharing efforts.
The report also noted that funding constraints appear to be having a significant impact on DHS’s key information-sharing initiatives.
“Progress has slowed for half of the 18 key initiatives, in part because of funding constraints,” the investigation found, noting five of DHS’s top eight priority information-sharing initiatives
currently face funding shortfalls.
The governance board has not been able to secure additional funds for these initiatives because they ultimately compete for funding within the budgets of individual components, although the board’s involvement has kept some initiatives from experiencing funding cuts, according to DHS officials.
DHS’s eight priority information-sharing initiatives, as of September 2012, include:
Controlled Homeland Information Sharing Environment
Information Sharing Segment Architecture Transition
Law Enforcement Information Sharing Initiative
Common Operating Picture/User-Defined Operation Picture
Traveler Enforcement Compliance System Modernization
Private Sector Information Sharing Work Plan
Homeland Secure Data Network
Homeland Security Information Network
However, GAO also noted that “DHS has not yet determined the specific capabilities each particular program must implement for DHS to conclude that it has improved information sharing enough to achieve its information-sharing vision for 2015.”
Establishing the level of capabilities programs must implement could help DHS prioritize programs, and track and assess progress toward its vision, the report said.
DHS responded to GAO’s report, saying department officials concurred with GAO’s recommendations.