GAO-13-279SP: Homeland security/Law enforcement: 8. Field-Based Information Sharing

Homeland security/Law enforcement > 8. Field-Based Information Sharing

To help reduce inefficiencies resulting from overlap in analytical and investigative support activities, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security and the Office of National Drug Control Policy could improve coordination among five types of field-based information sharing entities that may collect, process, analyze, or disseminate information in support of law enforcement and counterterrorism-related efforts—Joint Terrorism Task Forces, Field Intelligence Groups, Regional Information Sharing Systems centers, state and major urban area fusion centers, and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Investigative Support Centers.

Why This Area Is Important

Sustaining a national information sharing capability to efficiently and effectively gather, analyze, and disseminate law enforcement, public safety, and terrorism-related information is critical to our nation’s efforts to combat criminal and terrorist threats.[1] Over the past 3 decades, federal agencies and state and local governments have established a number of entities (e.g., units, centers, and task forces) in the field to support this effort. The federal government—specifically, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)—operates or, through grant funding or personnel, supports these five types of field-based information-sharing entities. These five types of entities include:

  • Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which are funded and managed by DOJ’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), aim to prevent, preempt, deter, and investigate terrorism and related activities affecting the United States as well as to apprehend terrorists;

  • Field Intelligence Groups are part of the FBI, support FBI investigations through the collection and analysis of intelligence that is used to create a variety of analytical products and share these products with the FBI’s law enforcement and intelligence partners when applicable to those partners’ missions;

  • Regional Information Sharing Systems centers, which are funded through grants administered by DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, support regional law enforcement efforts to, among other things, combat major crimes and terrorist activity, and promote officer safety by linking federal, state, local, and tribal criminal justice agencies through secure communications and providing information-sharing resources and investigative support;

  • State and major urban area fusion centers(fusion centers), which are funded through a variety of federal and state sources, including in part through DHS and DOJ grants, are state and locally owned and operated to serve as intermediaries for sharing terrorism and other threat-related information between the federal government and state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector homeland security partners;[2] and

  • High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Investigative Support Centers, which are funded through grants administered by ONDCP, aim to support the disruption and dismantlement of drug-trafficking and money-laundering organizations through the prevention or mitigation of associated criminal activity. HIDTA program resources may also be used to assist law enforcement agencies in investigations and activities related to terrorism and the prevention of terrorism.

GAO reported in April 2013 that a total of 268 of these field-based entities were located throughout the United States (see following figure for locations), and DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP provided an estimated $129 million to support three of the five types of entities—Regional Information Sharing System, fusion, and HIDTA Investigative Support centers—in fiscal year 2011.[3] (Data on funding estimates for Joint Terrorism Task Forces and Field Intelligence Groups are classified.)

Nationwide Locations of Five Types of Field-Based Information-Sharing Entities in GAO’s Review

Nationwide Locations of Five Types of Field-Based Information-Sharing Entities in GAO’s Review

Note: Entities located in U.S. territories are not depicted in this figure.


[1]For purposes of this report, terrorism-related information encompasses “terrorism information,” which includes “weapons of mass destruction information” and “homeland security information,” consistent with section 1016 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, as amended, as well as law enforcement information relating to terrorism or the security of the homeland. See Pub. L. No. 108-458, § 1016(a), 118 Stat. 3638, 3664-65 (2004) (codified as amended at 6 U.S.C. § 485(a)). See also Pub. L. No. 107-296, § 892(f), 116 Stat. 2135 (2002) (codified at 6 U.S.C. § 482(f)).

[2]A fusion center is a collaborative effort of two or more agencies that combines resources, expertise, or information at the center with the goal of maximizing the ability of such agencies to detect, prevent, investigate, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity. See 6 U.S.C. § 124h(j)(1).

[3]The National Fusion Center Association (NFCA) reported fusion center funding based on self-reported responses from 57 of 77 fusion centers.

What GAO Found

Information obtained by law enforcement that relates to terrorism has no single source and is derived by gathering, fusing, analyzing, and evaluating relevant information from all levels of government. This information can be used by federal, state, local, and tribal government organizations for multiple purposes, including supporting activities to prevent terrorist attacks. Because it involves the efforts of several federal agencies, this information sharing is by definition fragmented and can produce unique perspectives when information from multiple sources is combined. However, this fragmentation can be disadvantageous if activities are uncoordinated, as well as if opportunities to leverage resources across entities are not fully exploited.[1]

In general, the five types of entities in GAO’s review were established under different authorities and have distinct missions, roles, and responsibilities. For example, consistent with its mission to detect and investigate terrorists and terrorist groups and prevent them from carrying out terrorist acts directed against the United States, Joint Terrorism Task Forces are solely responsible for conducting counterterrorism investigations.[2] However, each type of entity may engage in counterterrorism efforts and terrorism-related information sharing.

In addition, in carrying out their respective missions, roles, and responsibilities, entities in the eight urban areas in GAO’s review conducted activities that overlap. That is, the entities can conduct similar activities in support of similar goals in the same mission areas (all-crimes, counterterrorism, and counternarcotics) for similar customers (federal, state, and local agencies).[3] To assess the extent of overlap, GAO selected eight urban areas to review and compared the mission areas, activities, and customers of each entity within those urban areas to those of the other entities in the same urban area. While results from these eight urban areas are not generalizeable to all urban areas, the results provided insight into entities’ activities and areas of overlap. GAO reported in April 2013 that 34 of the 37 entities located across the eight urban areas conducted an analytical or investigative support activity that overlapped with another entity. Specifically, for analytical activities and services the entities conduct, GAO identified more instances of overlap in the: (1) mission areas of all-crimes and counterterrorism compared to the mission area of counternarcotics; (2) activities conducted by fusion centers and Field Intelligence Groups compared to the other three entities; and (3) dissemination of information compared to other activities and services. For example, in five of the eight urban areas, the fusion center and Field Intelligence Group produced all-crimes analytical products, such as reports on criminal organizations, for federal, state, and local customers including state and local police departments. The figure below shows instances of overlap in analytical activities and services in each of the eight urban areas in GAO’s review.

Analytical Activities and Services Conducted in the Same Mission Areas for Similar Customers in the Eight Urban Areas in Our Review

Analytical Activities and Services Conducted in the Same Mission Areas for Similar Customers in the Eight Urban Areas in Our Review

Notes: We focused our analysis on whether an entity conducted an activity for federal, state, or local customers. Therefore, entities could also conduct these activities for other customers, such as for tribal agencies or to meet internal needs. In addition, entities did not report whether customers for whom an activity was conducted were considered to be primary or secondary customers. Accordingly, the figure indicates whether an activity was conducted, not the frequency or prevalence of that activity. For example, the amount of time and resources dedicated to each activity conducted by the entities may vary. For the purposes of this report, we defined six categories of analytical activities and other services that entities can perform: (1) collection management, (2) strategic analysis, (3) analytical products, (4) threat or risk assessments (5) criminal bulletins and publications, and (6) dissemination.

aCollection management is the identification, location, and recording or storing of information used to support analysis.

bStrategic analysis is the analysis of crime patterns, crime trends, or criminal organizations for the purpose of planning, decision making, and resource allocation.

cAnalytical products involve the conversion of raw information into intelligence.

dThreat or risk assessments are documents that analyze the propensity for threat or risk in a certain time or place.

eCriminal bulletins and publications are bulletins or publications that highlight criminal activity.

fDissemination is the distribution of information to customers.

gUrban area 1 includes two regional fusion centers, a fusion center that covers a region within its state and a fusion center that serves state and local partners.

Analytical Activities and Services Conducted in the Same Mission Areas for Similar Customers in the Eight Urban Areas in Our Review (continued)

Analytical Activities and Services Conducted in the Same Mission Areas for Similar Customers in the Eight Urban Areas in Our Review (continued)

Notes: We focused our analysis on whether an entity conducted an activity for federal, state, or local customers. Therefore, entities could also conduct these activities for other customers, such as for tribal agencies or to meet internal needs. In addition, entities did not report whether customers for whom an activity was conducted were considered to be primary or secondary customers. Accordingly, the figure indicates whether an activity was conducted, not the frequency or prevalence of that activity. For example, the amount of time and resources dedicated to each activity conducted by the entities may vary. For the purposes of this report, we defined six categories of analytical activities and other services that entities can perform: (1) collection management, (2) strategic analysis, (3) analytical products, (4) threat or risk assessments (5) criminal bulletins and publications, and (6) dissemination.

aCollection management is the identification, location, and recording or storing of information used to support analysis.

bStrategic analysis is the analysis of crime patterns, crime trends, or criminal organizations for the purpose of planning, decision making, and resource allocation.

cAnalytical products involve the conversion of raw information into intelligence.

dThreat or risk assessments are documents that analyze the propensity for threat or risk in a certain time or place.

eCriminal bulletins and publications are bulletins or publications that highlight criminal activity.

fDissemination is the distribution of information to customers.

For investigative support activities and services, GAO identified more instances of overlap in the: (1) mission area of all-crimes compared to the mission areas of counterterrorism and counternarcotics; (2) activities conducted by fusion centers and Regional Information Sharing Systems centers compared to the other three entities; and (3) tactical analysis, such as link analysis of relationships among suspects or telephone toll analysis, compared to other investigative support activities and services.[4] Overlap in analytical activities and services can be beneficial, for example, if it validates information or allows for competing or complementary analysis; however, overlap can also lead to inefficiencies, for example, if it burdens customers with redundant information. Officials from seven state and local law enforcement customer agencies GAO interviewed had varying preferences about the frequency and amount of information they receive from entities.[5] However, officials from four of these seven customer agencies stated that receiving redundant information is burdensome.[6] For example, an official from one local law enforcement agency explained that entities forwarding original products, criminal bulletins, and publications without coordination due to time constraints leads to law enforcement leadership getting inundated with redundant information.

Improving coordination could help the agencies reduce inefficiencies resulting from overlap, as it could allow agencies to identify overlapping and duplicative efforts, and more precisely determine agency roles and responsibilities. DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP have processes in place to collect and measure information on the capabilities or performance of the entities in information sharing. However, DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP do not specifically hold field-based entities accountable for coordinating with each other. As such, coordination is not a specific expectation in the entities’ performance management systems, and agencies do not track or measure the extent to which entities in urban areas are coordinating to leverage resources, collaborate, and reduce overlap. GAO reported in March 2003 that high-performing organizations use their performance management systems to strengthen accountability for results, specifically by placing greater emphasis on fostering the necessary coordination both within and across organizational boundaries to achieve results.[7]

Officials from FBI, Bureau of Justice Assistance, DHS, and ONDCP each stated that coordination among the entities is essential in meeting individual missions. These officials further told us that they ultimately rely on the leadership of their respective field-based entities to ensure that successful coordination is occurring. However, officials at 22 of the 37 entities stated that successful coordination depends most on personal relationships and can be disrupted when new leadership takes over at an entity. Officials at 20 of 37 entities also stated that measuring and monitoring coordination could alleviate the process of starting over when new personnel take over at a partner entity and ensure that maintaining coordinated efforts is a priority. A mechanism, such as performance metrics related to coordination, that holds field-based entities accountable for coordinating with each other and enables agencies to monitor and evaluate these efforts could help DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP, working through the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee, to provide agencies with information about the effective coordination taking place among field-based entities and provide additional incentives for personnel in the field to strengthen coordination efforts.

To improve interagency coordination, the agencies could consider practices and mechanisms that entity officials in the field reported as enhancing coordination. For example, officials in the eight urban areas in GAO’s review identified participation on local governance boards, such as executive boards with responsibility for managing an entity and physical or virtual co-location of entities, as two practices that enhanced coordination, reduced overlap in activities they conducted, and leveraged resources. Officials stated that co-locating, as well as creating shared information spaces in a virtual environment, allowed them to share information more efficiently, develop more sophisticated products, increase coordinated and collaborative efforts, and save resources. GAO reported in April 2013 that such practices were consistent with guidance provided to the entities by DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP, as well as with practices that GAO had previously reported federal agencies have used to implement interagency collaborative efforts.[8]

However, GAO also reported in April 2013 that entities nationwide do not all use such practices, and DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP have not assessed the extent to which such practices entities identified to enhance coordination could be more comprehensively applied across the nation. For instance, GAO reported in April 2013 that 11 of 72 fusion centers did not have governance boards, and 16 fusion centers were colocated with Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Therefore, agencies may have additional opportunities to apply these types of practices.

The federal government has begun to take some steps to enhance coordination. For example, the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee—an interagency working group within the Executive Office of the White House with members from DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP, among others, that has responsibility for ensuring information sharing among the entities—brought the members of its Fusion Center Subcommittee together to discuss how to establish stronger partnerships between fusion centers and HIDTA Investigative Support Centers, and to further define the operational roles, responsibilities, and relationships among these entities.[9] According to agency officials present at the meeting, the subcommittee did not explore the extent to which participation on boards, co-location, or other coordination practices could benefit additional entities across the nation. Rather, the intent was to provide a forum to share practices and the subcommittee did not have a plan to implement or promote specific practices nor to further assess their greater applicability.

An assessment of the feasibility of additional participation on governance boards and the co-location of these entities in certain geographic areas—as well as other practices that could enhance coordination and reduce unnecessary overlap—could help DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP in their roles on the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee to be better informed on whether additional governance boards or co-located entities should be pursued.



[1]According to the 2012 Information Sharing Environment (ISE) Annual Report to Congress, effective and responsible information sharing requires a strong commitment and participation from agencies. The Program Manager for ISE’s mission includes promoting partnerships across federal, state, local, and tribal governments, and the private sector, as well as internationally.

[2]The FBI is responsible for the coordination of all intelligence and investigatory activity involving federal crimes of terrorism, and carries out this responsibility through the Joint Terrorism Task Forces. As such, none of the other entities are responsible for conducting counterterrorism investigations.

[3]For purposes of this report, “mission area” refers to the area of work in which an entity conducts an activity. The mission area of “all-crimes” can include terrorism and other high-risk threats as well as other types of crimes.

[4]Link analysis is the analysis of information that shows relationships among varied subjects suspected of being involved in criminal activity. Telephone toll analysis is the analysis of incoming and outgoing telephone calls, which can help investigators to establish ties between suspects.

[5]One of the eight customer agencies included in GAO’s review did not provide comments on overlap in activities conducted by entities.

[6]According to FBI officials, actions to ensure coordination for product dissemination are largely dependent on the relationship with each fusion center and there is a difference between FBI intelligence products and fusion center intelligence products; not all fusion center disseminations are sent to Field Intelligence Groups and Field Intelligence Group products are not always appropriate for dissemination to fusion centers.

[7]GAO, Results-Oriented Cultures: Creating a Clear Linkage between Individual Performance and Organizational Success, GAO-03-488 (Washington, D.C.:
Mar. 14, 2003).

[8]GAO, Managing for Results: Key Considerations for Implementing Interagency Collaborative Mechanisms, GAO-12-1022 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 27, 2012).

[9]The Fusion Center Sub‐Committee of the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee is co-chaired by FBI and DHS, and includes members from, among others, Bureau of Justice Assistance, ONDCP, and the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council, which includes representatives of state and local fusion centers and law enforcement agencies.

Actions Needed

GAO recommended in April 2013 that the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Director of ONDCP work through the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee or otherwise collaborate to take the following two actions:

  • develop a mechanism that will allow them to hold field-based information-sharing entities accountable for coordinating with each other and monitor and evaluate the coordination results achieved; and

  • identify characteristics of entities and assess specific geographic areas in which practices that could enhance coordination and reduce unnecessary overlap, such as cross-entity participation on governance boards and colocation of entities, could be further applied, and use the results to provide recommendations or guidance to the entities on implementing these practices.

While the potential financial benefit of these actions cannot be known, in part, until an assessment is completed, GAO’s work illustrates that the implementation of these recommendations could help DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP reduce inefficiencies resulting from overlap through enhanced coordination and leveraging of resources, and therefore, increase efficiencies and improve information sharing.

How GAO Conducted Its Work

The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from the product in the related GAO product section. To assess fragmentation and overlap among field-based information-sharing entities, GAO compared the missions, activities, and customers reported by officials from each entity in eight urban areas that GAO selected to reflect a range of factors, including geographic dispersion to those of other entities in the same urban area. While results from these eight urban areas are not generalizeable to all urban areas, the results provided insight into entities’ activities and areas of overlap. GAO applied criteria from its prior work on fragmentation, overlap, and duplication to assess if any activities were conducted in the same or similar mission area for the same or similar customers.[1] GAO also interviewed officials from either a state or local law enforcement agency that received information from one or more of the entities in each of the eight urban areas (i.e., customer agencies). To identify efforts under way to improve coordination and information sharing among the agencies and the entities, GAO analyzed documentation and interviewed officials from FBI, Bureau of Justice Assistance, DHS, and ONDCP with responsibility for overseeing or providing support to the entities. To assess the extent to which the agencies hold the entities accountable for coordinating with each other, GAO analyzed the types of information the entities provide the agencies regarding coordination and interviewed officials who were responsible for overseeing the entities’ information- sharing efforts. Table 7 in appendix IV lists the programs GAO identified that might have similar or overlapping objectives, provide similar services, or be fragmented across government missions. Overlap and fragmentation might not necessarily lead to actual duplication, and some degree of overlap and duplication may be justified.



[1]GAO, 2012 Annual Report: Opportunities to Reduce Duplication, Overlap and Fragmentation, Achieve Savings, and Enhance Revenue, GAO-12-342SP (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 28, 2012); and Follow-up on 2011 Report: Status of Actions Taken to Reduce Duplication, Overlap, and Fragmentation, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue, GAO-12-453SP (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 28, 2012).

Agency Comments & GAO Contact

In commenting on the April 2013 report on which this analysis was based, DOJ stated that the Department generally agreed with the two recommendations in the report; however, DOJ stated that it did not concur with the premises underlying the two recommendations, which is discussed in more detail below. DHS concurred with both recommendations and reported steps it was taking to address them. DHS also stated that it will work with GAO to define more specific and measureable outcomes, and document these decisions. ONDCP concurred with both recommendations. DHS and DOJ also provided technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate.

Specifically, in its letter DOJ stated that it generally agreed with the goal of the first recommendation but that it did not concur that the Department was not already actively promoting coordination. For example, officials stated that DOJ has participated in summits with other agencies, including DHS, in an ongoing dialogue on efficient and effective coordination of information sharing in the field. While these efforts are positive steps for sharing information and coordinating to improve sharing, the efforts do not fully address the recommendation to develop a mechanism for accountability and monitoring coordination across all five entities included in GAO’s review. GAO maintains that such a mechanism that specifically and directly holds field based entities accountable for coordinating with one another could add valuable context to the type of dialogue DOJ describes, while encouraging entities to maintain working relationships when new leadership is assigned and engage in coordination activities, such as leveraging resources, to avoid unnecessary overlap.

With respect to the second recommendation, in its letter DOJ stated that it agreed with the general intent of the recommendation, but does not concur with the premises that the Department does not already routinely seek to identify potential efficiency gains and that colocation is something that should be a goal in and of itself. DOJ stated that it does encourage entities to explore efficiencies that can be gained by, for example, cross-entity participation or colocation in circumstances where appropriate and efficient. However, DOJ stated that what is appropriate and efficient is highly dependent on local circumstances, and a one-size fits all approach will not work because of variation in the entities, regions, and laws under which they operate. GAO agrees and stated in the report that colocation should not be advocated as a universal approach because it may not be practical in all cases. GAO’s recommendation calls for the agencies that operate or otherwise support these entities to collectively assess opportunities to enhance coordination through whatever effective means they identify.

DOJ stated that a comparison of the Field Intelligence Groups and Joint Terrorism Task Forces with the other entities over-generalizes their activities since they are operational while the others are analytical. Similarly, DHS stated that the comparison of Field Intelligence Groups with fusion centers over-generalizes the unique nature of the entities’ products and their intended recipients. In its report, GAO outlines the distinct missions, authorities, roles, and responsibilities of each of the entities, noting the Joint Terrorism Task Force’s unique role in conducting counterterrorism investigations. Further, GAO acknowledges that entities serve as intermediaries to different customers while each has a broader role in sharing information with its partners as appropriate. DOJ’s letter also commented on the generalizeability of GAO’s analysis. GAO selected eight urban areas to explore activities conducted and coordination mechanisms across the five entities in its review. On the basis of GAO’s analysis, GAO identified instances of reported overlap in activities and also examples of where coordination was working well across the entities. GAO stated in its report that the results from the eight urban areas are not generalizeable, and thus GAO made recommendations for agencies to assess practices GAO identified that were working well, as well as other coordination practices, to identify additional opportunities nationwide to coordinate and reduce any unnecessary overlap in entities’ activities.

GAO provided a draft of this report section to DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP for review and comment. DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP provided no additional comments.

For additional information about this area, contact Eileen Larence at (202) 512-8777 or larencee@gao.gov.

Related Products

Information Sharing:

Agencies Could Better Coordinate to Reduce Overlap in Field-Based Activities
GAO-13-471:
Published: Apr 4, 2013. Publicly Released: Apr 4, 2013.