Information-sharing efforts making strides, officials say

The Defense, Homeland Security and Justice departments and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are working more closely than ever to overcome barriers.

In the past six years, the White House and Congress sent about 21 directives to agencies telling them to improve information sharing. But cultural resistance has slowed progress in many circles. Officials from the Defense, Homeland Security and Justice departments and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said the pieces are falling into place, and intelligence analysts are starting to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. “ODNI wants to move from a need-to-know culture to one of access,” said Michael Johnson, ODNI’s deputy associate director of national intelligence. He added that one of Mike McConnell’s first acts as director of national intelligence was to put Dale Meyerrose, ODNI’s chief information officer, in charge of information sharing.Johnson and three other federal officials discussed what their agencies and the government as a whole must do to facilitate information sharing during a panel discussion May 24 sponsored by the Bethesda, Md., chapter of AFCEA International. All four officials said a service-oriented architecture approach to information sharing is essential. “Our strategy requires us to move to SOA,” said Susan Henry, an information architect at the Coast Guard. “We need to understand the components rules and business practices better. We will need a flexible infrastructure to provide services.” But beyond the technical issues, Henry, Johnson and others said their agencies and others at the federal, state and local levels are working on several policy and procedural issues. They include developing trust models, roles and responsibilities when using data in government and industry, and standardizing how information is tagged, whether it is unclassified, sensitive but unclassified or classified. “There are 100 ways to tag information, and we need a consistent way,” said Paul Grant, DOD’s information assurance executive. “Then we need to agree with our partners on how to protect that information.” Grant said the agencies working on the Information Sharing Environment (ISE), a presidential mandate, will establish the tagging and protection standards. He also said federal agencies must work with their state and local colleagues on governance issues. “We need to make sure we all do things in a certain way so we can trust each other,” Grant said. “We need a federation of agreements that includes policy and technical procedures to protect ourselves. All of this must be an agreed-upon set of rules.” He said DOD and ODNI are in the early stages of discussing the issue. Michael Duffy, Justice’s deputy chief information officer, said the key is coming up with a lexicon of roles. Then agencies can determine who should have access to specific information. DOD recently issued its information-sharing strategy, and Johnson said ODNI is now developing a strategy that is compatible with DOD’s and ISE’s. “We want to understand the baseline state of information sharing,” he said. ODNI is establishing a policy for classified information, and a working group has started to tackle sensitive but unclassified data, Johnson added. Meanwhile, DOD is developing recommendations on what changes must be made in its Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement to require companies to offer a minimum level of protection for each brand of data. The recommendations would also consider how different contractors working on the same project could share data, said Janice Haith, DOD’s director of intelligence access for warfighter support. She said people should send recommendations for updating policies to the deputy secretary of Defense next month.