Complacency and bureaucracy threaten US security drive

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Complacency and bureaucracy threaten US security drive

US government officials have claimed that policy barriers, turf wars and a growing sense of complacency in the private sector threaten to slow the progress of the country's homeland security drive.

Although the details remain classified, Curt Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, said "a number of real threats" have been thwarted in recent weeks, thanks in large part to improvements in IT interoperability and information-sharing made since the US Department of Homeland Security was formed in November. 

But Weldon, along with senior congressional staff members and independent experts cautioned that there are still policy roadblocks, as well as cultural and perception problems, which could easily undo those successes.

Chief among those challenges is the issue of money. According to Weldon, the House and Senate are now trying to reach agreement on restoring $168m in IT funding cut from the Defense Authorization Bill. 

"This is not the time to do homeland security on the cheap," said retired US Army general Wesley Clark. "I know there are turf wars. There are a number of reasons for walls between agencies. The way to stop the turf competition is with [financial] resources." 

But the problem goes deeper than authorising IT spending, said Weldon. At present, 88 committees and subcommittees touch "a hodgepodge of congressional jurisdictions" that control some portion of homeland security funding. 

A priority for Congress this year will be to help the new agency set IT spending priorities for the $30bn homeland security budget recently passed by the House of Representatives.

Tim Sample, former staff director at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said federal largesse and cultural stagnation must also be tackled before progress can be made on information-sharing. 

"I spent eight years working with members of the committee, trying to get a system of collaborative analysis deployed throughout the intelligence community," Sample said. "Technology is not the issue. Bureaucracy is the issue." 

But Ruth David, former director of science and technology at the CIA and now chief executive officer of Analytical Services, warned she was starting to see "signs of complacency" throughout both the government and the private sector and that the homeland security initiative must move beyond information-sharing. 

"We're treating information-sharing like the Holy Grail," said David. "This is about relationships, not about building an IT network and pushing out bits of data."

Dan Verton writes for Computerworld


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