Key Issues > Duplication & Cost Savings > GAO's Action Tracker > Field-Based Information Sharing (2013-08)
justice icon, source: Comstock

Homeland Security/Law Enforcement: Field-Based Information Sharing (2013-08)

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.

Action:

The Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) should work through the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee 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, and use the results to provide recommendations or guidance to the entities on implementing these practices.

Progress:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and ONDCP have addressed GAO’s April 2013 recommendation. 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 Systems (RISS) centers, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Investigative Support Centers, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF), and Field Intelligence Groups (FIG).

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. In its annual National Network of Fusion Centers Final Report, released in July 2017, DHS reported on the extent to which fusion centers have representatives from other 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 agency used the report's results to enhance coordination with DOJ, the FBI, and ONDCP. DHS plans to issue its next annual report in July 2018.

In December 2015, DHS developed a field-based partners report in which DOJ and ONDCP collected data elements similar to those used in the fusion center assessment for RISS centers and HIDTA Investigative Support Centers and reported the data along with the fusion center data. However, the report did not include data for the Joint Terrorism Task Forces or Field Intelligence Groups at the FBI. In September 2017, the FBI, DHS, and fusion centers, among other entities, launched the Enhanced Engagement Initiative designed to provide best practices and recommendations to enhance engagement among FBI field offices, fusion centers, and other field-based information-sharing partners.

In December 2017, the FBI described how its participation in entities such as the Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team, the Domestic Director of National Intelligence Representative program, and the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council allows for ongoing coordination of information-sharing activities with other entities. This coordination resulted in the development of Field-Based Regional Integration and Coordination Plans which outline the roles and responsibilities of the entities in a specific region. As a part of implementation of the plan, partners agreed to convene at least once a year to review the plan for updates, enhancements, and edits. Collectively, these activities represent a collaborative assessment of where practices that enhance coordination can be applied to reduce overlap, increase collaboration, and leverage resources for all five field-based information-sharing entities.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Office of National Drug Control Policy

Action:

The Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) should work through the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee or otherwise collaborate to 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.

Progress:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and ONDCP have addressed GAO’s April 2013 recommendation. Through their collective actions and involvement in an interagency policy committee within the Executive Office of the President, DHS, DOJ, and ONDCP have developed mechanisms to hold state and urban area fusion centers, Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) centers, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Investigative Support Centers, Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF), and Field Intelligence Groups (FIG) accountable for coordinating their analytical and investigative activities.

In May 2013, DHS noted that while it does not have 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 July 2017, DHS released its annual National Network of Fusion Centers Final Report, which included information on fusion center coordination. The report noted that fusion center colocation with the other entities continues to increase, offering fusion centers opportunities for more effective information sharing and collaboration, access to specialized resources, and cost savings. 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 July 2018.

The agencies have worked together through forums to develop metrics to better ensure coordination and to collectively monitor and evaluate results. These forums have included, for example, the Fusion Center and Suspicious Activity Reporting Subcommittee of the Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee. The subcommittee was led out of the Executive Office of the President and was part of the Information Sharing Environment until it completed its activities at the end of December 2015. 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 the fusion center data. 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 the Joint Terrorism Task Forces or Field Intelligence Groups at the FBI. In September 2017, the FBI, DHS, and fusion centers, among other entities, launched the Enhanced Engagement Initiative designed to provide best practices and recommendations for coordination among FBI field offices, fusion centers, and other field-based information-sharing partners.

In December 2017, the FBI described how its participation in entities such as the Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team, the Domestic Director of National Intelligence Representative program, and the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council allows for ongoing coordination of information-sharing activities with other entities. This coordination resulted in the development of Field-Based Regional Integration and Coordination Plans which outline the roles and responsibilities of the entities in a specific region. As a part of implementation of the plan, partners agree to convene at least once a year to review the plan for updates, enhancements, and edits. Collectively, these mechanisms can allow the agencies to monitor progress in their coordination efforts, evaluate results of these efforts, and avoid unnecessary overlap across entities.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Office of National Drug Control Policy
  • portrait of
    • Diana C. Maurer
    • Director, Homeland Security and Justice
    • maurerd@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-9627