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Where to put intel's info sharing?


By Jill R. Aitoro July 10, 2009

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Congress hopes to pass a bill that would elevate the head of the intelligence community's information sharing efforts to the White House, but President Obama already indicated he'd reject the measure.

Thomas McNamara is the program manager of the Information Security Environment, or ISE, which was created in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to facilitate the sharing of terrorism information. Specifically, the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act required the president to designate a program manager who would establish policies and procedures with all levels of government, the private sector and international partners to share information that could respond to or prevent terrorist acts.

The 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act, being debated in the House, includes a section that would move the program manager position from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to the Executive Office of the President. Though it offers little explanation as to why the change was included in the bill, one can assume that the goal is to make these efforts to improve information sharing across the public and private sectors a higher priority for the administration and to enable greater influence over agency efforts. As Jim Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies once said about why the cyber chief needed to be in the White House, "If I have access to the president and control over budgets, I will get agencies to do whatever I want."

But while the administration has danced around who the cyber chief will be and where the position will reside, President Obama made it clear that the ISE program manager would not make the move to his office any time soon. In a statement of administration policy released on Wednesday, the White House objected to the measure with this rather vague explanation:

The administration is still reviewing how to make the PM-ISE most effective and believes such legislation is premature and could create undue administrative and managerial burdens by creating a completely new category of information for agencies to manage. The administration would like to work with Congress to meet its goals through nonlegislative means.

What's meant by "undue administrative and managerial burdens" is difficult to say, and why a move by the program manager would require agencies to manage a "new category of information" is unclear, but regardless, it seems McNamara will stay put at ODNI for now.

And perhaps that's exactly where he belongs. Since Obama took office, there has been a lot of talk about whether or not certain IT positions should be in the White House; first it was the highly-anticipated position of chief technology officer, which some now say is buried too far in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. And then there was the debate about where the yet-to-be-named cyber czar would reside, which is still going on now. There are valid arguments for why both appointees -- who will generally dictate policies and procedures -- need the ear of the president. But the program manager for the information sharing environment? This title alone defines the position as operational in nature - enabling policies more than dictating and enforcing them. And operations simply do not belong in the White House.

For a little more information on what the Information Sharing Environment has accomplished, check out the 2009 annual report that was released today.


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