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.

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What GAO Found

Five types of field-based information-sharing entities are supported, in part, by the federal government--Joint Terrorism Task Forces, Field Intelligence Groups, Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) centers, state and major urban area fusion centers, and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Investigative Support Centers--and have distinct missions, roles, and responsibilities. However, GAO identified 91 instances of overlap in some analytical activities--such as producing intelligence reports--and 32 instances of overlap in investigative support activities, such as identifying links between criminal organizations. These entities conducted similar activities within the same mission area, such as counterterrorism, for similar customers, such as federal or state agencies. This can lead to benefits, such as the corroboration of information, but may also burden customers with redundant information. GAO also found that RISS centers and HIDTAs operate three different systems that duplicate the same function--identifying when different law enforcement entities may be conducting a similar enforcement action, such as a raid at the same location, to ensure officer safety--resulting in some inefficiencies. RISS and HIDTA have taken steps to connect two of the systems, but HIDTA does not have target time frames to connect the third system. A commitment to time frames would help reduce risks to officer safety and potentially lessen the burden on law enforcement agencies that are currently using multiple systems.

Agencies have neither held entities accountable for coordinating nor assessed opportunities for further enhancing coordination to help reduce the potential for overlap and achieve efficiencies. The Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS), and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)--the federal agencies that oversee or provide support to the five types of field-based entities-- acknowledged that entities working together and sharing information is important, but they do not hold the entities accountable for such coordination. A mechanism that enables agencies to monitor the results of coordination efforts could encourage more coordination, help reduce any unnecessary overlap and leverage resources. Officials in the eight urban areas said that practices such as having representatives from other agencies on governance boards and colocating entities where possible enhanced coordination, information sharing, and efficiencies--in their view, reducing the potential of unnecessary overlap. Federal agencies have not assessed the extent to which such practices could be further implemented and, therefore, may be missing opportunities to maximize benefits. The Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE)--which manages efforts to enhance sharing governmentwide--has not reported on specific coordination efforts across the entities. Including agencies' assessment progress in the annual reports to the Congress would enhance accountability.

The agencies collect information on entities' results, but vary in the extent to which they consider the results when they make decisions about future funding. For example, agencies may consider other factors--such as risk and threats--rather than results, or funding decisions may be determined by state grant recipients or set in part by statutory or other requirements.

Why GAO Did This Study

Federal agencies and state and local governments have established field-based entities (e.g., centers and task forces) nationwide that share terrorism-related information, among other things. GAO was asked to assess these entities. This report addresses (1) the extent to which these entities are distinct, fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative; (2) the extent to which DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP hold entities accountable for coordinating and have assessed coordination opportunities; and (3) how, if at all, DOJ, DHS, and ONDCP incorporate information on the results entities achieve when making funding decisions. GAO analyzed entities' missions, activities, and coordination efforts in eight selected urban areas that range in geographic dispersion and risk. Although not generalizable, this analysis provided insights. This is a public version of a sensitive report GAO issued in March 2013. Information the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) deemed sensitive has been redacted.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that ONDCP work with HIDTA officials to establish time frames to connect systems; DHS, DOJ, and ONDCP develop measures to hold entities accountable for coordination and assess opportunities to enhance coordination; and the PM-ISE report on the results of the agencies’ efforts to assess coordination. DHS, ONDCP, and the PM-ISE concurred. DOJ generally agreed with the intent of the recommendations, but disagreed with their underlying premises that DOJ was not already taking such actions. GAO believes these actions do not fully address the recommendations as discussed further in this report.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has implemented GAO's recommendation by connecting each of the three systems that High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Investigative Support Centers use to deconflict operations. Connecting these systems can reduce risks to officer safety and inefficiencies by informing multiple federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies that are conducting enforcement actions-such as raids, undercover operations, or surveillances-in proximity to one another during a specified time period. In our April 2013 report, we found that HIDTA and Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) officials had taken steps to connect two of three event deconfliction systems. However, HIDTA officials had not finalized plans to make the remaining event deconfliction system interoperable with the other two systems. In May 2015, ONDCP completed the steps to achieve interoperability among the three event deconfliction systems. According to an official at the HIDTA that operates one of the deconfliction systems, as of October 2015, more than 1,500 agencies are participating in the three systems. The official added that more than 159,000 events have been entered, and more than 800 events have been matched among the three systems.

    Recommendation: Recognizing that agencies are taking steps to ensure that two of the three systems officers use to deconflict their law enforcement actions are interoperable, the Director of ONDCP should work with the appropriate HIDTA officials to develop milestones and time frames for actions needed to make the third system, the Secure Automated Fast Event Tracking Network (SAFETNet) system, interoperable in order to prevent unnecessary delays in reducing risks to officer safety and lessening the burden on law enforcement agencies that are currently using multiple systems.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of National Drug Control Policy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), through their involvement in an interagency policy committee within the Executive Office of the President, has worked with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop a mechanism to hold state and urban area fusion centers, Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) centers, and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Investigative Support Centers accountable for coordinating their analytical and investigative activities. In December 2015, DHS developed a field-based partners report in which DHS, DOJ and ONDCP reported data for RISS centers and HIDTA Investigative Support Centers along with previously reported fusion center data. These data were focused on field-based collaboration, including governance, colocation, and other information sharing, analytic, and deconfliction-focused topics. Such a mechanism can help entities maintain effective relationships when new leadership is assigned and avoid unnecessary overlap in activities, which in turn can help entities to leverage scarce resources. Based on these actions, the recommendation is closed as implemented for ONDCP.

    Recommendation: To promote coordination as a practice to help avoid overlap, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Director of ONDCP should work through the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee (ISA IPC) or otherwise collaborate to develop a mechanism, such as performance metrics related to coordination, 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.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of National Drug Control Policy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has developed a mechanism to hold fusion centers accountable for coordinating their analytical and investigative activities with other field-based information-sharing entities and is monitoring progress, as GAO recommended in April 2013. DHS stated that it is working with DOJ and ONDCP to hold the field-based information-sharing entities that they support accountable for coordination through their involvement in an interagency policy committee within the Executive Office of the President. In May 2013, DHS noted that while it does not have the authority to direct state and locally-operated fusion centers to coordinate, it uses indirect methods for monitoring and evaluating information sharing, such as an annual fusion center assessment process. In June 2014, DHS released its annual National Network of Fusion Centers Final Report, which included information on fusion center coordination. The report recommended that the fusion centers should, among other things, continue expanding multidisciplinary and federal agency involvement in governance bodies and advisory boards to promote improved field-based coordination and collaboration. Further, DHS's report stated that the federal government should identify and promulgate best practices for federal agency engagement with fusion center governance bodies and advisory boards. According to DHS, the report's results are used to identify areas for improved coordination with DOJ and ONDCP on field-based information sharing efforts. DHS plans to issue its next annual report in June 2016. As GAO's April 2013 report notes, the agencies have existing forums they can use to work together in developing metrics to ensure this coordination, and collectively monitor and evaluate results achieved. These forums include, for example, the Fusion Center Subcommittee of the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee (ISA IPC). The ISA IPC is led out of the Executive Office of the President, and is part of the Information Sharing Environment. Since May 2013, DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which co-chair the subcommittee, have added another DOJ field-based information sharing entity as an advisory member to help strengthen the information sharing efforts of the five field-based entities GAO reviewed (within DHS, FBI, DOJ, and ONDCP). In July 2015, the subcommittee met and agreed to modify its 2015 Workplan plan to address the collection, analysis, and reporting of data pertaining to field-based information-sharing entities. According to DHS officials, this data will focus on field-based collaboration, including governance, colocation, and other information sharing, analytic, and deconfliction focused topics. Subsequently, DHS assisted DOJ and ONDCP in developing a common assessment template, based on common data elements collected in the fusion center assessment. Holding field-based entities accountable for coordinating with each other, monitoring progress, and evaluating results can help entities maintain effective relationships when new leadership is assigned and avoid unnecessary overlap in activities, which in turn can help entities to leverage scarce resources. Based on these actions, we consider the DHS portion of this recommendation to be closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To promote coordination as a practice to help avoid overlap, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Director of ONDCP should work through the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee (ISA IPC) or otherwise collaborate to develop a mechanism, such as performance metrics related to coordination, 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.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Justice (DOJ), in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), has made progress toward addressing GAO's April 2013 recommendation but has not included all of the relevant field-based information sharing entities in its efforts. Through their involvement in an interagency policy committee within the Executive Office of the President, DHS, DOJ, and ONDCP have developed a mechanism to hold state and urban area fusion centers, Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) centers, and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Investigative Support Centers accountable for coordinating their analytical and investigative activities. However, the agencies have not fully addressed the action because DOJ's Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) and Field Intelligence Groups (FIG), two of the five field-based entities included in GAO's April 2013 report, have not participated in the assessment on which the mechanism is based. In December 2015, DHS developed a field-based partners report in which DHS, DOJ and ONDCP reported data for state and urban area fusion centers, RISS centers, and HIDTA Investigative Support Centers. These data were focused on field-based collaboration, including governance, colocation, and other information sharing, analytic, and deconfliction-focused topics. However, the report did not include data for DOJ's JTTFs or FIGs. DOJ has noted that JTTFs and FIGs are different from the other entities because JTTFs are operational law enforcement investigative entities and FIGs provide intelligence support to FBI Field Offices. However, GAO's April 2013 report identified areas in which the missions and activities of JTTFs and FIGs overlapped with those of the other entities and that coordination with other field based entities was important to prevent unnecessary overlap and potential duplication. Considering the exclusion of two of the five entities, the agencies do not have a collective mechanism that can hold FIGS and JTTFs accountable for coordinating with the other field-based information sharing entities and allow the agencies to monitor progress and evaluate results across entities. Such a mechanism can help entities maintain effective relationships when new leadership is assigned and avoid unnecessary overlap in activities, which in turn can help entities to leverage scarce resources. GAO will continue to monitor DOJ's progress in this area.

    Recommendation: To promote coordination as a practice to help avoid overlap, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Director of ONDCP should work through the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee (ISA IPC) or otherwise collaborate to develop a mechanism, such as performance metrics related to coordination, 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.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), has taken the necessary steps to assess the extent to which practices that can enhance coordination are being implemented at state and urban area fusion centers, RISS centers, and HIDTA Investigative Support Centers through their involvement in an interagency policy committee within the Executive Office of the President. ONDCP has implemented its part of the recommendation by collecting and providing HIDTA data for the assessment of three of the five field-based entities included in GAO's April 2013 report. In December 2015, DHS, DOJ, and ONDCP developed a field-based partners report in which DOJ and ONDCP collected and reported data elements for RISS centers and HIDTA Investigative Support Centers similar to those DHS uses in its annual fusion center assessment. These data were focused on field-based collaboration, including governance, colocation, and other information sharing, analytic, and deconfliction-focused topics. A collaborative assessment of where practices that enhance coordination can be applied to reduce overlap, collaborate, and leverage resources for field-based information-sharing entities can allow the agencies to provide recommendations or guidance to the entities on implementing these practices. Based on these actions, the recommendation is closed as implemented for ONDCP.

    Recommendation: To help identify where agencies and the field-based entities they support could apply coordination mechanisms to enhance information sharing and reduce inefficiencies resulting from overlap, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Director of ONDCP should work through the ISA IPC or otherwise collaborate to 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. The results of this assessment could be used by the agencies to provide recommendations or guidance to the entities to create coordinated governance boards or colocate entities, which can result in increased efficiencies through shared facilities and resources and reduced overlap through coordinated or collaborative products, activities, and services.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of National Drug Control Policy

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has assessed the extent to which practices that can enhance coordination are being implemented at state and major urban area fusion centers, as GAO recommended in April 2013. Specifically, DHS uses its annual assessment of fusion center capabilities to gather data on steps the centers are taking to better coordinate analytical activities with all four of the other field-based information-sharing entities in GAO's review--Joint Terrorism Task Forces, Field Intelligence Groups, Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) centers, and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Investigative Support Centers. In its annual National Network of Fusion Centers Final Report, released in June 2014, DHS reported on the extent to which fusion centers have representatives from the other four entities on their executive boards, are colocated with other entities, and issue products jointly developed with other entities. These data are intended to provide DHS with a current baseline on the extent to which fusion centers have such collaborative mechanisms in place. DHS stated that the department used the report's results to enhance coordination with DOJ, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and ONDCP. Further, DHS's report recommended that the federal government use data from its assessment to connect fusion centers with centers with similar topical interests and then facilitate exchanges between these centers and their federal partners, when appropriate, to work on specific collaborative analytic products. DHS plans to issue its next annual report in June 2016. In addition, DHS, along with the FBI, co-chairs the Fusion Center Subcommittee of the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee (ISA IPC). The ISA IPC is led out of the Executive Office of the President and is part of the Information Sharing Environment (ISE). DHS stated that under the auspices of the subcommittee, DHS, DOJ, and ONDCP can collaborate to identify and assess characteristics of coordination among entities. In July 2015, the subcommittee met and agreed to modify its 2015 Workplan to address the collection, analysis, and reporting of data pertaining to field-based information-sharing entities. According to DHS officials, this data will focus on field-based collaboration, including governance, colocation, and other information sharing focused topics. Subsequently, DHS assisted DOJ and ONDCP in developing a common assessment template, based on common data elements collected in the fusion center assessment. Based on these actions, DHS has implemented its part of the recommendation and continues to assist DOJ and ONDCP in their efforts to provide similar assessments of where practices that enhance coordination can be applied to reduce overlap, collaborate, and leverage resources for their respective field-based information-sharing entities.

    Recommendation: To help identify where agencies and the field-based entities they support could apply coordination mechanisms to enhance information sharing and reduce inefficiencies resulting from overlap, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Director of ONDCP should work through the ISA IPC or otherwise collaborate to 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. The results of this assessment could be used by the agencies to provide recommendations or guidance to the entities to create coordinated governance boards or colocate entities, which can result in increased efficiencies through shared facilities and resources and reduced overlap through coordinated or collaborative products, activities, and services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Justice (DOJ), in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), has made progress toward addressing GAO's April 2013 recommendation but has not included all of the relevant field-based information sharing entities in its efforts. The three agencies have taken the necessary steps to assess the extent to which practices that can enhance coordination are being implemented at state and urban area fusion centers, Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) centers, and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Investigative Support Centers through their involvement in an interagency policy committee within the Executive Office of the President. However, the assessment did not include DOJ's Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) or Field Intelligence Groups (FIG), two of the five field-based entities included in GAO's April 2013 report. In December 2015, DHS, DOJ, and ONDCP developed a field-based partners report in which DOJ and ONDCP collected and reported data elements for RISS centers and HIDTA Investigative Support Centers similar to those DHS uses in its annual fusion center assessment. These data were focused on field-based collaboration, including governance, colocation, and other information sharing, analytic, and deconfliction-focused topics. However, the report did not include data for DOJ's FBI JTTFs or FIGs. A collaborative assessment of where practices that enhance coordination can be applied to reduce overlap, collaborate, and leverage resources for all five field-based information-sharing entities would allow the agencies to provide recommendations or guidance to the entities on implementing these practices. GAO will continue to monitor DOJ's progress in this area.

    Recommendation: To help identify where agencies and the field-based entities they support could apply coordination mechanisms to enhance information sharing and reduce inefficiencies resulting from overlap, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Director of ONDCP should work through the ISA IPC or otherwise collaborate to 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. The results of this assessment could be used by the agencies to provide recommendations or guidance to the entities to create coordinated governance boards or colocate entities, which can result in increased efficiencies through shared facilities and resources and reduced overlap through coordinated or collaborative products, activities, and services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information. Status last updated August 5, 2016.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that an assessment of practices that could enhance coordination and reduce unnecessary overlap is shared and used to further enhance collaboration and efficiencies across agencies, the Program Manager, with input from the ISA IPC collaborating agencies, should report in the Information Sharing Environment (ISE) annual report to Congress the results of the assessment, including any additional coordination practices identified, efficiencies realized, or actions planned.

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

 

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