Information Sharing Environment:

Definition of the Results to Be Achieved in Improving Terrorism-Related Information Sharing Is Needed to Guide Implementation and Assess Progress

GAO-08-492: Published: Jun 25, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 23, 2008.

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The attacks on 9/11 underscored the federal government's need to facilitate terrorism-related information sharing among government, private sector, and foreign stakeholders. In response, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 mandated the creation of the Information Sharing Environment (ISE), which is described as an approach for the sharing of terrorism-related information. A presidentially appointed Program Manager oversees ISE development with assistance from the Information Sharing Council (ISC), a forum for 16 information sharing officials from federal agencies and departments. GAO was asked to report on (1) what actions have been taken to guide the design and implementation of the ISE and (2) what efforts have been made to report on progress in implementing the ISE. To perform this work, GAO reviewed related laws, directives, guidance, and ISE planning and reporting documents and interviewed officials from the Program Manager's office and key agencies who serve on the ISC.

To guide ISE design and implementation, the Program Manager has issued an implementation plan, completed a number of tasks therein, and included other information sharing initiatives in the ISE, but the plan does not include some important elements to implement the ISE. The plan provides an initial structure and approach for ISE design and implementation. For example, the plan includes steps toward protecting information privacy and describes a two-phased approach for implementing the ISE by June 2009 consisting of 89 action items. Completed activities include, among others, development of proposed common terrorism information sharing standards. In addition, other federal, state, and local initiatives to enhance information sharing across the government are being incorporated in the ISE. These initiatives include partnering with state and local area fusion centers--created primarily to improve information sharing within a state or local area--to develop a national network of these centers. Nevertheless, Office of the Program Manager officials said that the 89 action items do not address all the activities that must be completed to implement the ISE. Work remains, including defining and communicating the ISE's scope, such as determining all terrorism-related information that should be part of the ISE, and communicating that information to stakeholders involved in the development of the ISE. In addition, the desired results to be achieved by the ISE, that is, how information sharing is to be improved, the specific milestones, and the individual projects--or initiatives--to achieve these results have not yet been determined. Defining the scope of a program, desired results, milestones, and projects are essential in providing a road map to effectively implement a program. Without such a road map, the Program Manager and stakeholders risk not being able to effectively manage implementation of the ISE. To report on progress in implementing the ISE, the Program Manager issued an annual report in September 2007, which highlighted individual accomplishments and included several annual performance goals, and has since begun to develop performance measures, but neither effort provides for an assessment of overall progress in ISE implementation and of how much work remains. Some individual accomplishments contributing to the ISE occurred under the implementation plan; others, prior to and separate from ISE creation efforts. In keeping with federal guidance, GAO's work, and the work of others in strategic planning, performance measurement, and program management, the implementation plan contained six strategic goals and the annual report four performance goals for 2008. Also, the Program Manager has begun to develop some performance measures, but they focus on counting activities accomplished rather than results achieved. For example, the measures include the number of ISE organizations with a procedure in place for suspicious activity reports, but not how the reports are used and what difference they are making in sharing to help prevent terrorist attacks. GAO acknowledges that creating such measures is difficult, particularly since the program is still being designed, but until these measures are refined, future attempts to measure and report on progress will be hampered.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, we reported that to guide the design and implementation of the Information Sharing Environment (ISE), the Program Manager for the ISE had issued an implementation plan, completed a number of tasks therein, and identified related information sharing initiatives, but the plan did not include some important elements to implement the ISE. Since then, the Program Manager and other stakeholders have taken steps to more fully define the scope and specific results to be achieved by the ISE along with the key milestones and individual projects or initiatives needed to achieve these results. Specifically, the Program Manager has defined the vision, mission, and priorities for the ISE within the ISE 2012 and 2013 annual reports to Congress. In addition, the Program Manager has defined milestones within the ISE Implementation Guidance, which outlines the actions and initiatives assigned to specific federal agencies that are needed to improve information sharing. Based on these actions, we consider this recommendation to be closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the ISE is on a measurable track to success, the Program Manager, with full participation of relevant stakeholders (e.g., agencies and departments on the ISC), should more fully define the scope and specific results to be achieved by the ISE along with the key milestones and individual projects or initiatives needed to achieve these results.

    Agency Affected: Office of the Director of National Intelligence: Office of the Program Manager--Information Sharing Environment

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE) released the 2012 ISE Annual Report to Congress in July 2012. The report provides ISE Performance Data that assesses ISE agency performance within the areas of community, process, and technology. Twenty agencies participated in the ISE Performance Assessment Questionnaire, including the five key ISE agencies. The performance data illustrates the maturity level of several key ISE priority areas, including what areas are meeting expectations and what areas are below expectations. In addition, the performance data provides a maturity score to indicate what percent of agencies are participating in the ISE, complying with ISE processes during agency planning, and complying with ISE technical guidance during agency acquisitions. The percentages provided gives the PM-ISE and other stakeholders an understanding of the extent to which the ISE is being implemented across ISE agencies and how much remains to be done. Based on these actions, we consider this recommendation to be closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the ISE is on a measurable track to success, the Program Manager, with full participation of relevant stakeholders (e.g., agencies and departments on the ISC), should develop a set of performance measures that show the extent to which the ISE has been implemented and sharing improved--including, at a minimum, what has been and remains to be accomplished--so as to more effectively account for and communicate progress and results.

    Agency Affected: Office of the Director of National Intelligence: Office of the Program Manager--Information Sharing Environment

 

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