Information Sharing:

DHS Could Better Define How It Plans to Meet Its State and Local Mission and Improve Performance Accountability

GAO-11-223: Published: Dec 16, 2010. Publicly Released: Dec 16, 2010.

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What GAO Found

To enhance the usefulness of intelligence products it provides to state and local partners, I&A has initiatives underway to identify these partners' information needs and obtain feedback on the products, but strengthening these efforts could support the development of future products. As of August 2010, I&A had finalized information needs--which are owned and controlled by the states--for 9 of the 50 states. I&A was working with remaining states to identify their needs, but it had not established mutually agreed upon milestones for completing this effort, in accordance with program management principles. Working with states to establish such milestones and addressing any barriers to identifying their needs could better assist states in the timely completion of this process. In addition, I&A has begun issuing a new customer feedback survey to recipients of its products and plans to begin analyzing this feedback to determine the value of the products, but it has not developed plans to report the results of its analyses to state and local partners. Reporting the results to these partners and actions it has taken in response could help I&A demonstrate that the feedback is important and makes a difference, which could encourage state and local partners to provide more feedback and ultimately make I&A’s products and services more useful.

In addition to intelligence products, I&A provides a number of other services to its state and local partners--primarily through fusion centers--that have generally been well received by the center officials GAO contacted. For example, I&A has deployed more than 60 intelligence officers to fusion centers nationwide to assist state and local partners in areas such as obtaining relevant intelligence products and leveraging DHS capabilities to support their homeland security missions. I&A also facilitates access to information-sharing networks disseminating classified and unclassified information, provides training directly to center personnel, and operates a 24-hour service to respond to state and local requests for information and other support.

Historically, I&A has focused its state and local efforts on addressing statutory requirements and responding to I&A leadership priorities, but it has not yet defined how it plans to meet its state and local information-sharing mission by identifying and documenting the specific programs and activities that are most important for executing this mission. Best practices show that clearly identifying priorities among programs and activities is important for implementing programs and managing results. Further, I&A's current performance measures do not allow I&A to demonstrate the expected outcomes and effectiveness of programs and activities that support state and local partners, as called for in program management principles. I&A officials said they are planning to develop such measures, but had not established time frames for doing so. Defining and documenting how I&A plans to meet its state and local information-sharing mission and establishing time frames for developing additional performance measures could better position I&A to make resource decisions and provide transparency and accountability over its efforts. GAO recommends that I&A establish milestones for identifying the information needs of state and local partners, report to these partners on how I&A used feedback they provided to enhance intelligence products, identify and document priority programs and activities related to its state and local mission, and establish time frames for developing additional related performance measures. DHS agreed with these recommendations.

Why GAO Did This Study

Information sharing among federal, state, and local officials is crucial for preventing acts of terrorism on U.S. soil. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), through its Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), has lead federal responsibility for such information sharing. GAO was asked to assess (1) actions I&A has taken to enhance the usefulness of intelligence products it provides to state and local partners, (2) other services I&A provides to these partners, and (3) to what extent I&A has defined how it intends to share information with these partners. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed relevant statutes, strategies, best practices, and agency documents; contacted a nongeneralizable sample of 10 fusion centers—where states collaborate with federal agencies to improve information sharing—based on geographic location and other factors; and interviewed I&A officials. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in September 2010. Information DHS deemed sensitive has been redacted.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that I&A establish milestones for identifying the information needs of state and local partners, report to these partners on how I&A used feedback they provided to enhance intelligence products, identify and document priority programs and activities related to its state and local mission, and establish time frames for developing additional related performance measures. DHS agreed with these recommendations.

For more information, contact Eileen Larence at (202) 512-8777 or larencee@gao.gov.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help I&A strengthen its efforts to share information with state and local partners, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for I&A to define and document the programs and activities its divisions and branches will be expected to implement in order for I&A to collectively meet its state and local information-sharing mission and provide accountability and transparency over its efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since GAO issued its report, DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) has taken a number of steps to provide accountability and transparency over its efforts to meet its state and local information sharing mission. For example, I&A's strategic plan explicitly prioritizes its customer set with state, local, tribal, and territorial partners as falling only below DHS leadership in priority. Also, since 2010, I&A has issued an annual report on the National Network of Fusion Centers, which includes (1) a detailed analysis of the collective capability of fusion centers, (2) an analysis of the effectiveness of federal support to fusion centers, and (3) recommendations for federal government action to support the National Network in further building its capabilities. Also, in 2013, I&A created the Field Analytic Support Team to provide tailored support to I&A's partners in state and local government. I&A has also provided GAO an account of actual production of intelligence at the classified and unclassified levels for state, local, tribal, and territorial partners, and the results of voluntary feedback from those customers. I&A has also taken steps to restructure its flagship intelligence training class--Basic Intelligence Threat Analysis Course--into modules for delivery to state, local, tribal, and territorial agencies, and developed on-line training to improve accessibility of DHS intelligence training. In addition, I&A has funded and supported the provision on Secret-level connectivity to the vast majority of fusion centers, and has supported a "Single Point of Service" to provide state, local, tribal, and territorial partner access to all I&A services and ensure responses to requests for information. Based on these actions, we consider this recommendation to be closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To help I&A strengthen its efforts to share information with state and local partners, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for I&A to periodically report to state and local information-sharing partners on the results of I&A's analysis of the product and services feedback these partners provide and the actions I&A took in response to this feedback.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since GAO issued its report, the Production Management Division within the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis' (I&A) Customer Assurance Branch launched a new customer feedback webpage on the DHS Homeland Security Information Network's State and Local Community of Interest (HS SLIC) to address this recommendation. The page provides state and local partners with feedback activity and explains how customer feedback drives improvements throughout I&A. The webpage also includes a document library and monthly feedback reports, containing detailed analysis of current feedback summaries that outline the actions taken by I&A in response to feedback. The library enables customers to see how their feedback was used to improve the relevance, timeliness, and utility of products. In June 2013, the I&A Production Management's Research Division provided GAO an onsite demonstration of feedback information provided on the HS SLIC portal, showing how I&A communicates feedback to its customers. Based on these actions, we consider this recommendation to be closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To help I&A strengthen its efforts to share information with state and local partners, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for I&A to work with states to establish milestones for the timely completion of efforts to identify state information needs and identify and work to resolve any barriers to this timely completion.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since GAO issued its report, DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) has worked with states to establish additional processes to identify state information needs. As of July 2013, more than half of all states and fusion centers had either an approved submitted or draft submitted standing information needs. I&A has also continued to work with the National Network of Fusion Centers to help keep information needs updated. For example, I&A completes an assessment of all fusion centers each year and produces a related report, which, for 2012, included the following questions related to identifying information needs: (1) Does your fusion center have a process for identifying and managing information needs? (2) Does your fusion center have a process for managing the gathering of locally generated information to address the fusion center's information needs? (3) Does your fusion center have approved and documented standing information needs for your area of responsibility? (4) Have your fusion center's standing information needs been submitted to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis? (5) Which multidisciplinary partner agencies does your fusion center include in its standard information needs development process? Based on these actions, we consider this recommendation to be closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To help I&A strengthen its efforts to share information with state and local partners, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Under Secretary for I&A to establish plans and time frames for developing performance measures that gauge the results that I&A's information-sharing efforts have achieved and how they have enhanced homeland security.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2010, we reported that I&A's performance measures for its state and local information sharing efforts provided descriptive information regarding activities and services that I&A provides to these partners, but that these measures do not allow I&A to demonstrate and report on the actual results, effects, or impacts of programs and activities or the overall progress it is making in meeting the needs of its partners. We noted that developing such measures could help I&A support program and funding decisions. We recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the Under Secretary for I&A to establish plans and time frames for developing performance measures that gauge the results that I&A's information-sharing efforts have achieved and how they have enhanced homeland security. I&A subsequently developed additional measures that include, among other things, measures on the quality and timeliness of the information they provide to customers. Based on I&A's actions, we consider this recommendation to be closed as implemented.

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